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Disruption by the book: the days of $400 college textbooks may soon be over

Posting in Education

Are the days of $400 college textbooks coming to an end? Initiatives from Open Educational Resources proponents, and now publishers, may mean more course content from low or no-cost online resources.

Tipping point for expensive college textbooks? Photo by Joe McKendrick.

In previous posts, we've talked about the disruption of higher education, through initiatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) that deliver world-class education to students of all ages across the globe, at little or no charge. We've also talked about the disruption of the publishing industry, and the movement from print to digital. In between those two worlds has been the college textbook industry, which also now appears ripe for disruption.

That's the observation of Slate's Kevin Carey, who provides details on  the emerging "Open Educational Resources" movement, responsible in recent years for the provisioning of "high-quality texts, videos, charts, problem sets, and other useful content in a huge array of subjects," contributed by advocates of open education as well as college professors themselves. A new site, Boundless.com, has been launched to help curate the large database of items now available online to students, learners and educators.

College textbook publishers are not taking this new online competition lying down, however. Earlier in 2012, three publishers sued Boundless, claiming the startup has "has stolen the creative expression of their authors and editors, violating their intellectual-property rights."

However, likely in recognition of the inevitability of the coming wave of disruption that is beginning to sweep the textbook industry, one of the litigants in the suit, Pearson, announced in November a new venture, Project Blue Sky, which, as Carey describes it, will "use a search engine developed by a company called Gooru specifically for online education, allowing people to 'search, select and seamlessly integrate Open Education Resources.'”

The Gooru search engine was developed by a nonprofit organization to maintain and offer rich collections of multimedia resources, digital textbooks, videos, games and quizzes created by educators in the Gooru community.

There's been plenty of discussion and efforts in recent times as to how college textbook content will be delivered in the digital age. Apple, for one, has promised major disruption via delivery of all textbooks over iPads. There has even been some controversy over whether students can as readily absorb material delivered digitally. But OER proponents seek to make content delivery more componentized and cost effective.

— By on December 26, 2012, 1:15 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure