Digital Publishing is a contentious subject among educators. The transition between paper and digital has created gray areas and thoughts/opinions on the transformation to digital range widely and evolve consistently. With the kick-off of the 2014 EDUCAUSE Conference under way it’s a good time to take a look at the arguments presented. Do we burn the textbook? Does digital serve a higher purpose?
Digital vs. Print Publishing
Until November 2007 when Amazon introduced the Kindle, the only viable means of book distribution was paper. Any author who wanted to reach a mass audience needed a paper distribution partner. Any author could hire his or her own editor and his or her own cover design artist; he or she could even hire a printing press to create the actual books. The one service he or she couldn’t hire out was distribution. And publishers didn’t offer distribution as an a-la-carte service. The package service was always the best value, and there was no viable alternative otherwise.
In textbook publishing, there has been little alternative to buying a traditional book from the publishers—particularly in Higher Education. Each professor expects their students to have access to the required text. Knowing that professors require specific texts, publishers are able to control the market (in an effort to stop borrowing and downloading illegal versions, etc.). They do this by publishing “updated” editions to their texts fairly frequently. It’s an effort on their part to “force” students to buy new textbooks—whether the content needs refreshing or not.
Textbook costs increased an average of 186 percent from 1986 to 2005—a jump that saw several students dropping out of college simply because they couldn’t afford the books they needed for classes. Digital publishing clearly posed a solution to the issue and has pushed the industry ever-closer to its tipping point.
Major publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years buying up software companies and building new digital divisions, betting that the future will bring an expanded role for digital publishers in higher education.
So far, publishers are only producing a limited number of titles in these born-digital formats, and the number of professors assigning them is relatively small. Only about 2 percent of textbooks sold at college bookstores are fully digital titles, according to a survey of 940 bookstores run by Follett Higher Education Group.
As these new kinds of textbooks catch on, they raise questions about how much control publishers have over curriculum and the teaching process. It seems that the time has come for a different publishing model, and with it, real disruption.
Colleges as Publishers
Publishers shouldn’t be the only organizations building these new textbooks. In fact, the most qualified organizations to be writing said texts are colleges themselves.
Modern digital content management technologies can help universities not only transition from print to digital, but can also help the transition into self-publishing as well. Implementation is always key when it comes to new technology and, particularly with digital publishing, rash or jumpy behavior can kill the vision before it’s realized.
Preparing appropriate digital initiatives, trainings, and continued professional development are all essential to creating buy-in and getting users to feel comfortable using the content management technology to begin creating digitally powered course curricula. But the payoff is definitely worth it.
Self-publishing is great for universities and students alike. With universities as publishers, Higher Ed institutions start regaining control of the content used in their courses. Additional benefits include new revenue streams and the ability to provide students much better rates for books than students were able to get on their own, even for used textbooks.
Plus, with the right technology, those who wanted to read the textbook on paper could print out the electronic version or pay an additional fee to buy an old-fashioned copy—a book.
Communication, Collaboration, and Reciprocity
In readying myself for the conference, I had the opportunity to read The Other End of the Scale: Re-Thinking the Digital Experience in Higher Education on the EDUCAUSE Review. The article is full of conversation-starters, but one key message stood out.
“It is time to rethink the digital experience in higher education: we have a chance not only to reimagine our encounters with the large scale but also to embrace our opportunities at the other end of the scale.”
The move to digital learning has been defined by the “rhetoric of openness,” meaning the success or failure of any digital movement in higher-education is going to depend on collaboration—between faculty, students, and IT professionals. The same can be said of digital publishing. Failure on the part of textbook publishers to advance digital publishing could be attributed to the lack of collaboration between the publishers and the institutions, as well as the institutions and the students in order to determine which digital texts work properly and which don’t.
Improved communications are often a key factor in facilitating this type of collaboration. Continuing to ask “what kind of engagement do we want from our students,” and simultaneously, “how are they engaging with us now,” can help create the communicative foundation universities need to be able to collaborate properly with students.
As the landscape of learning continues to grow and change, and more of our communications become mobile, institutions will need to be able to provide easy, immediate access to all forms of communication on all devices.
Rather than using an old communications system that requires University IT departments to support each device individually, wouldn’t it make sense to employ an agnostic system—something that can be tailored to different users, and one that can be re-used repeatedly?
A Unified Communications-enabled solution can be that device agnostic system for which you’re looking. Not only can it effectively tie professors, students, and faculty together across devices, it can also simultaneously create a recurring revenue model for your institution—licenses can “rented” and then easily re-used as students graduate.
The technologies that will be most successful, however, are those that can combine the collaboration and digital publishing features to provide one, self-sustaining, self-informing communications solution. A collaborative content management system can centralize all processes and give universities one location from which students can get all requisite information and content, can access university-oriented social sharing/collaboration tools, and can be directly connected with faculty and professors through advanced UC functionality.
A collaborative content management system can effectively tie everything together, giving universities total control so students and teachers can continue making the same sort of epistemological advances that are today, made in the traditional classroom with the traditional textbook.
To learn more about Collaborative Content Management, check out our webinar and demo recording below. If you happen to be at EDUCAUSE this week, stop by booth 709 to chat with an NEC expert during normal Expo hours.