Textbooks in the Future: Born Digital, Regular Updates, and Lifelong Access

In News by Erin L. Cox

By Erin L. Cox

From an unlikely source comes a potential industry-changing digital transformation for textbooks. Last September, Nature Publishing Group (NPG), known for their scientific journals, published Principles of Biology, a new kind of digital textbook. Today at the International Digital Publishing Forum Digital Book 2012, Vikram Savkar the Senior Vice President and Publishing Director at NPG described what made this digital textbook different than others, how they came to create the book, and what this can mean for the future of textbook adoption and publishing.

Though NPG is not a traditional textbook publisher, they wanted to be a major force to help inspire younger generations to become high-performing scientists. “We never set out to do anything radical or ground-breaking. We intended to create a new textbook aligned with the needs of students and teachers today,” said Savkar.

In order to do that, their digital textbook would have to be something students wanted rather than needed. They would have to simplify the user experience, reduce the cost to both the end user and the publisher, and create ways to measure the effectiveness of instruction. What came out of that mission was a textbook that wasn’t simply a digitization of a print book, but something that was born digital.

By combining text, diagrams, videos, and links to recent supporting articles that have run in journals published by NPG, Principles of Biology keeps the student in one document for all of the courses’ purposes instead of sending them elsewhere for other sources, while also providing the students the best way of learning things in one place.

Available not as an app (which would have to be tailored for each device), but as both web and mobile sites to allow access anytime and anywhere, Principles of Biology also allows users to download to a desktop, print, or reorder the 200 modules that comprise the content of the book to suit a specific teaching schedule. For the cost of $49 (“a price that incentivizes sell-through and disincentivizes piracy”), NPG allows the buyer lifelong access. There will not be a second edition of Principles of Biology, the textbook will be updated regularly as new information is published.

While piracy is always a big concern when it comes to digital content, NPG didn’t want to discourage students from not using the book because of intense DRM restrictions. Though there is a threat that a copy can be pirated, downloads have stronger restrictions and pirated copies won’t have access to the tests throughout the textbook that link back to a grading tool for the instructor.

With over 100 schools adopting the textbook in less than a year and an average of 90% usage in classrooms (opposed to the usual 30%), Principles of Biology has made the case for what the future might look like for textbook usage. NPG is planning future textbooks in other science fields in the coming years.

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.