Joe Wikert published a post yesterday where he describes a "new" concept which he thinks could spark a revival in ebook sales.
Now imagine that same use-case in a digital world where there are no barriers. Think of the textbook as one long web page the reader can manipulate and add to. The original textbook content forms the foundation but the reader can add to it as they see fit.
So while Jane is studying chemistry she comes across a slick periodic table website that allows her to dive deeper into any given element. Today she merely bookmarks the site in her browser; tomorrow she drags the url into the textbook, perhaps configuring it as a pop-up element inside the ebook, thereby enriching the reading experience.
Maybe she also finds a few terrific videos online that explain some of the more complicated concepts in this chemistry course. Why not drag those into the book too?
At the end of the semester, Jane has managed to curate an entirely new product. The textbook is the foundation, but web elements and widgets curated by Jane help round it out. This has been useful for Jane, but what if she’s also able to sell her annotated edition to other students next semester? Maybe Jane’s edition sells for $5 more than the standard edition and Jane gets a cut of that price difference.
Chris Meadows has already commented on Wikert's post over on Teleread, and explained how the idea won't work for fiction.
I would phrase it thusly: only a subset of book culture would be interested in buying margin notes, which is just not big enough to make for a real market (plus, said market would be undercut by all the free competition from the likes of Kindle Popular Highlights, or book blogs).
This idea won't really work for textbooks, either - at least not as Wikert imagines it.
There are sites where students can sell their notes, just not like Wikert pictured. In fact, B&N invested in one such site earlier this year. It's now called Luvolearn, and it lets students sell their notes, study guides, or video tutorials to other students. (It also lets students hire each other as tutors.)
That marketplace doesn't work anything like Wikert's proposal, and with good reason. No college student would buy the digital textbook edition Wikert described above; it would cost too much.
Due to ever rising textbook costs, digital textbooks are a dead market. Students need to resell most of their textbooks, which means they can't buy digital (this is why textbook startups like Kno and Coursesmart failed).
It could be that "Jane’s edition sells for $5 more than the standard edition", but that edition would also sell for something like $100 more than the used paper textbooks most college students would buy.
TBH, I think Wikert's bundle idea betrays the biases he's picked up from his decades in digital publishing; he sees the textbook as the focal point of learning, where any student, teacher, or academic could tell you that textbooks are to learning like cars are to transportation.
A textbook is just one tool that students use learn, and in some fields they are the least relevant tool. So trying to boost textbook sales through adding more content doesn't really serve the market; it only serves publishers' interests.
If you really want to boost ebook sales, find me something that will serve the market better than what we have right now.
P.S. I am quite confident that a lot of people are looking for that great new idea right now, but I have no idea what it is. Amazon doesn't confide in me.
image by katerha