Risks in digital publishing

Some publishers think that once they have cracked the problem of producing digital books in a cost-effective manner (which includes the implementation of a digital-first workflow), they will have transitioned to digital publishing successfully. Their ‘books’ will be media rich and may even be updated on a more or less regular basis and they will be hitting the sweet spot re client requirements

I believe the assumption is wrong and dangerous for the industry and for education. I believe that in a few years, teachers will not want books. They already don’t use them in the UK for example. They will want content, content that can be arranged and rearranged in order to make personalized itineraries, on the fly responding to the needs of different groups and different individuals and situation, paid material will have to seamlessly integrate with UGC and freely-available material.

This is not a technological problem. Technology is already equipped to tag content in many ways, which will ensure many sorts of coherence, depending of teacher methodology. The main problems in cultural. Authors and editors only know how to write and commission ‘book’s. Sales people know how to sell ‘book’s. Linearity is the order of the day.

Ubiquitous computing, social learning, peer learning, etc, while appearing to be on the loony fringe,  are nearer than people think. If the industry ignores these tendencies, they are being complacent and sticking their heads in the sand

Many education publishers today are assuming that buyers of curriculum and other products will recognize the value of products that publishers have poured money into developing, and will be willing to pay more for products the industry produces as it is of higher quality than free.  It’s a shaky assumption, research shows. After not showing any difference in learning outcomes in 2010-2011, the Utah Open Textbook initiative data from 2011-2012 are telling a different story. Those data show a small – but statistically significant – positive effect. Students who used open textbooks as their primary materials during the year performed better on the state’s standardized tests than students who did not.

There has to be an answer [to open-education resources] that goes beyond, ‘our stuff is better than free.’ ”That may mean partnering with others designing materials, and attempt to make money by offering to curate or organize them in ways that would make them more useful to educators.

There are a number of new skills  needed in the industry:

  • Moving away from a purely sequential model of authoring, editing and publishing
    – Realtime publishing

Industrialisation of the digital publishing process
– Combined and not separate digital and print work flow – to the point where this is feasible
– Simply working more quickly

We can draw analogies from the music industry. As Moby remarked, musicians now have to write, promote, score movies, play live and write for other people in order to be successful.

Keeping the traditional print side of the business going, and indeed managing the transition to a less monolithic form of text material in the digital sphere, is going to be costly, all of which mean that innovation in publishing is a long play

Either way, digital textbook suppliers are unprepared for an imminent revolution


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