Joanna Ptolomey Lightening the load - textbook rental?
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Sunday, 31st July 2011 Sign in to MyJinfo or create an account be able to star items Printable version Subscribe via RSS to get updates as soon as Blog items are added

By Joanna Ptolomey


In Glasgow there is a second hand and antiquarian bookshop – Voltaire and Rousseau. It is a well-known haunt on the Glasgow literary trail, especially for the weary and skint student looking to buy and sell textbooks. As a student I was a heavy user of this shop as a complementary service to the academic library. I did also buy some core books from the University bookshop and, on cleaning out the attic recently, came across these textbooks and I have questioned their validity on reading lists.

Recently I was enjoying a Cuba Libre (stay with me, this does go somewhere) with a fellow guest at a hotel in Spain when, as we discussed the publishing world, he complained of having to update his key textbook in tax accountancy. He mused on the thought of an e-version, although his publishers were wary. 

I know from the LiveWire that the eBook sector is spiralling upwards with business libraries readily moving from print to digital. Penny Crossland has also posted that educational sector publishing has been slower in moving to the digital format for textbooks. As she further noted, institutions such as the Open University are already ahead of the game in having iPad content via iTunes, but by their very nature as an institution and how they produce their content it is perhaps worthwhile to consider that they have indeed been waiting for this very technology as a delivery tool. So perhaps they are an anomaly?

In order to keep an interesting conversation going longer with my Spanish poolside friend, we ordered another Cuba Libre, as we pondered the news that Kindle were now offering textbook rentals in the US. Students pay for the period of time they rent for – and for cash-strapped students this could be a viable option. Furthermore any notes or highlights made by the student renters can be stored on the Amazon Cloud for later reuse.

Comments gathered from this recent Kindle announcement suggest that so far the textbook ranges are limited, especially in science. Another player in this market is CourseSmart, a digital course materials supplier, which already has contracts with some US universities.

Do people want eTextbooks and rental – well there does seem to be some demand and there is a market for eBooks in general. The textbook educational sector could be the next big wave – format and copyright issues will eventually have some kind agreement or compromise. Obviously like leasing a car there is no resale value for an eTextbook rental, but I don’t think that will be a problem to people these days.

We seem to be moving away from the idea of having a physical item sitting on a shelf. What good are those textbooks doing in my attic and they do have a shelf life – even accountancy has a shelf life as my recent holiday buddy told me, and he would like to see students being able to buy (or rent) sections of the textbook as they are updated. Something I am in favour of as an author, and I have told my own publisher, that I would consider being able to sell chapters of my book and an upcoming contribution to a government information management collection.

No doubt we will have many more news items on eBooks on LiveWire. But cheers to the poolside friend for some interesting publishing chat and also to the Glasgow bookshop for some great wet afternoons browsing the stacks.

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