Monday, February 2, 2009

Newspapers and/or Textbooks

I've been on my little soapbox about textbooks since 2006. In January 2006, I did a column at What They called Ipods and Textbooks. A while ago I did a post here called Watch Out Textbooks. For the folks in digital printing and POD, the version at my other blog is for you.

For our newspaper viewers, here's the argument about newspapers going into the textbook business.
NW Missouri State University Replaces Textbooks with E-books - Epaper Central:
"The pilot program, which used only the Sony e-reader preloaded with all the textbooks, was tested out with about 200 students in total. This spring they plan on expanding this program to include about 4,000 of the 6,500 students. They won’t supply e-readers anymore, but will give the student a package that pre-loads the textbooks onto their laptops.
. . .
This program is expected to save the campus over $400,000 a year, once they completely get rid of all physical textbooks. Most students spend over 1,000$ a year on text books, a price that is rising tuitions and making it more and more difficult for students to pay back their expensive loans after they graduate.
Princeton, Yale, Oxford and UC Berkeley are already targeting the Kindle for the electronic versions of their textbooks.
The use case:
A library of school board approved content in the cloud. Probably organized as a managed wiki. Next week the teacher is discussing the beginning of the Civil War. She goes to a GUI, clicks on the most appropriate chapters for her class AT THAT TIME, and within three days 30 64 page paperback books are delivered to her classroom. The content is limited to the beginning of the Civil War. The book contains a series of assessment quizzes she will give her class.

If your newspaper was publishing at the time of the beginnings of the Civil War you have the best content on the planet for the kids in your community. If you can unlock the content in the long tail of your published editions and reformat or even just select articles from those papers, you will be giving teachers a way to connect with history through the lens of their community. Priceless!

Or if you have a great science or business editor, and a long tail of content. Same story.
Or if you don't have a long tail of content, but have a science or business editor who follows current developments. Same story.

The trick is to link up with someone in the education space who understands standards and can help you write quizzes. The dirty little secret is that the only remaining value of textbooks is that they, not the school boards nor most of the teachers, set the framework for the curriculum. The other dirty little secret is that the real value of textbooks is the quiz at the end of the chapter.

Textbooks are the next to go. Their revenue stream is going to be worse than advertising, for them. But, given the talent at most newspapers, and given the deeps roots in the community, newspapers are perfectly positioned to win, while the textbooks lose.

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