California Sounding the Death Knell of the Printed Textbook?

You know I’m a fan of ebooks. I rarely buy or accept or pick up paper books any longer. If a book is important to me, I’d rather be able to have it at my finger tips all the time (especially reference material). So Between Kindle, Kobo, and iBooks I have have pretty impressive library on my iPad at all times (and to a lesser extent my iPhone).

I’m also a huge proponent of iPads (or any tablet really) in schools. Beyond the ability to carry all your text books on something that weighs less than one text, the ability to take notes, collaborate, share, and get work done just trumps all other arguments for me.

Yes, I think giving all kids in Grade 6 or 7 and up a tablet for school (with a supplemental “real” keyboard for typing) is a solid investment. I’ll stand by that, no problem.

As far as e-textbooks go, there are more and more coming out all the time, but I think one of the barriers to the books hasn’t just been the cost of the e-copy or the hardware for students, but the availability of a wide range of texts.

Now California is  taking that problem head on and I think this is going to start the death spiral of the printed textbook:


“This week, California took a big step forward in the march toward online education. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a proposal to create a website that will allow students to download digital versions of popular textbooks for free.

The new legislation encompasses two bills: One, a proposal for the state to fund 50 open-source digital textbooks, targeted to lower-division courses, which will be produced by California’s universities. (Students will be able to download these books for free or pay $20 for hard copies.) The other bill is a proposal to establish a California Digital Open Source Library to host those books.”

(Via The Atlantic.)

“What? You’re nuts Tris!”

Uh huh. Let me put this in context. California has the same population as all of Canada (close to 40 million people now). Regardless of how you slice up numbers of students or kids or learners…that’s still a lot of people.

Next, whenever California has taken a stand for something like emissions standards (remember hearing on game shows that a particular car came with “California emissions”?) the rest of the country gets a trickle-down effect.

You can’t ignore changes or requirements legislated by the state with the largest population. (By the way, the next states to round out the top five are Texas (25.7 million), New York (19.5 million), Florida (19.1 million), and Illinois (12.9 million) via Wolfram Alpha).

So if California is doubling-down on electronic textbooks, which will likely cause a dip in orders of new texts over the coming years, what do you think will happen to the over all textbook printing industry?


However, I think this is a great thing for textbook publishers and writers. If you don’t have to print giant books that are expensive to move around and update, then you can afford to update texts more often. Schools could get updated textbooks more often. Kids could be reading history and science texts that are much more up to date than they currently are. In the end, I think school boards will get more bang for their buck and kids better texts to learn from.

The next barrier: extremely affordable and durable tablets for schools that students can haul around and won’t break in the first month of school.


  1. says

    Ooooh – very interesting. 

    “50 open-source digital textbooks”… on the face of it, that means they’ll be available to everyone. I’d like to think that might lead to other school boards, states, countries etc thinking “hmmmm… why don’t WE use their freely available textbooks” and maybe the thing could quickly snowball.

    On the flip-side, I foresee the almost criminally money-grubbing post-secondary textbook industry getting even more evil as they attempt to prolong the life of a dying business model (cf the ‘old school’ music production/distribution industry)

    But yes, given the number of intelligent and cautious adults who break/damage/lose the expensive & delicate electronics that they’ve had to work hard for, I’m not sure I rate the chances of an average kid making it through a single school year with any current tablet.

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