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CourseSmart Launches New Digital Textbook Pilot

The cost of textbooks increases every year far faster than inflation, and that is a problem which affects digital textbooks as well as paper. And now it seems the textbook publishers are proposing a new solution.

CourseSmart, which BTW is wholly owned by a consortium of textbook publishers, announced a new pilot program yesterday. They are inviting up to 20 universities to participate in the pilot.

The universities  are invited to select 100, 200, or some number greater than 200 students to test CourseSmart’s new Subscription Pack. This is a volume license type of program, and that is why the minimum requirement is a hundred students.

As I see it, Coursesmart has looked at the takeup in the 20 university pilot program which Educause and Internet2 are running this fall semester and decided to try their own. But instead of selecting single courses where the digital textbook would be forced upon students, Coursesmart has picked the fee they would like to receive per student decided to allow each student to use up to 12 titles at a time.

That is quite a different proposition from past digital textbook pilots. Most dealt with a single textbook or single course and covered all the students in that course, while this pilot is going function on an orthogonal basis. It will test whether individual students can all their textbooks via Coursesmart, or at least enough of the textbooks they need to make the fee worthwhile.

The fees will be:

  • 100 students = $27,500 per semester
  • 200 students = $44,000 per semester
  • Additional students can be added at $200 each after 200 student minimum

TBH, I’m surprised his isn’t getting more attention outside of the academic press; it’s an important piece of digital publishing news. This is a great idea and it is definitely one which is well worth exploring. If it works out then the prices proposed here would go a long way toward solving the issue of textbook prices.

But will it work? Even if Coursesmart can supply all the textbooks a student might need, there are still several potential technical stumbling blocks. Access will of course be an issue (including the several different types of mobile access), but a more important problem will be simultaneous access, both in a single title and between titles.

Digital textbooks cannot replace paper textbooks until digital comes closer to duplicating how students use paper. For example, I would need to have several textbooks open at once. A single textbook open on a single screen just won’t cut it.

Similarly, having a textbook open to a single page also won’t cut it. If students cannot quickly flip through a textbook then they will be hampered in their ability to study.

I haven’t used Coursmart’s apps in a while (Windows, Android, iOS, and mobile web), so I don’t know how well they will meet the needs of students. And I don’t know if students will be able to find enough titles to make it worthwhile.

But I do like the price. It starts at $275 per student and goes down from there. That’s not a whole lot more than I usually laid out for a single semester in my upper level classes.and while I could usually sell off my textbooks and reduce my costs to far below the $275 fee, not all students are as skilled at arbitrage as I am. They could benefit if this pilot is expanded to include more schools.

This is definitely a pilot program to watch.

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