According to a recent press release, this fall the business school at Virginia State University will give e-textbooks to the students enrolled in eight core courses. The university is working with Flat World Knowledge and has purchased a digital site license for the e-textbooks. This means that the university will pay for the e-textbooks via an institutional fee based on the number of students, which is similar to how institutions pay for campus-wide software.
The license allows students free access to the web, PDF, audio, and e-reader versions of the textbooks for the iPad, Kindle, and other e-readers. In addition, students with print disabilities will have access to textbooks in DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) and BRF (Braille Ready Format) formats. Students can also choose to purchase the print version of the textbooks if they prefer.
The initiative is part of the business school’s “revolution of excellence” which aims to increase retention and graduation rates through technology-based solutions. The intention of this pilot is to help remove textbook costs as one of the barriers. If the experiment goes well, it will expand next semester to include more courses. However, the university will be exploring options to transfer associated licensing costs to the students.
Flat World has done a terrific job of getting media coverage and the concept of institutional licensing of textbook content is also gaining coverage. This may be a signal that course material publishers have driven textbook prices as far as they can go. If more schools or institutions are able to get faculty to shift in numbers both how and what they teach, which is part of what textbook selection represents, in order to manage course materials prices then something is broken in the system. There is also a risk if the cost is ultimately built into tuition. Textbook prices are an easy target. The tuition problem is not. One thing is sure – more experiments and more conversions to different business models will continue to proliferate.