Businessweek reports that six universities will be partnering with Amazon and "major publishers" to offer student Kindle versions of some textbooks. This may be a good development, but, as I wrote yesterday, it remains to be seen whether those "major publishers" will not use this as another excuse to keep coming up with new "editions" of existing texts and to jack up orices further.
The article emphasizes that the Kindle itself needs to become more affordable before being embraced by students. I think that it will all depend on the prices of the texts offered. Looking on Amazon this morning, the Kindle sells for $359. While this is no small change for students, it is about the price of 2-3 textbooks these days. So, even with this proice, if the texts offered are priced more reasonably, it might be a bargain. We shall see.
According to rumors, Amazon is due to unveil the new version of Kindle, the "large screen" one. Frederic Landrois speculates on Read/Write/Web that one of the effects of the new Kindle, perhaps an unintentional one, could be the reduction and eventual extinction of the used-textbook market. According to Landrois,
"For textbook publishers, electronic (and DRMed) editions aren't so much about convenience for students, but about cutting out the used-book market, where a lot of students get their books and where the publisher gets absolutely nothing. In 2005, the market for used textbooks in the U.S. was valued at about $1.6 billion, about a third of the total market for educational and professional books."
If that, indeed happens, that would be an unfortunate effect of this otherwise great piece of technology. I remember than when the first Kindle was released, ideas were floated than, rather than having students buy a new set of printed textbooks every semester, publishers could come up with cheaper, electronic versions for Kindle. That way, a student invests in a Kindle and keeps buying electronic versions of books for much less than those books' printed versions. Of course, perhaps allowing that to happen would have been unthinkable if you are a textbook publisher whose only apparent way of making a profit these days is coming up with new "editions" every year which contain minimal content changes but cost more and more.
I know, it is only April, but I am already planning for next fall's classes. The biggest challenge is finding suitable texts. It is not, of course, the first time that I am teaching first-year composition, but I just cannot seem to find one or two texts (in print or online) which would be good enough for me to stay with them for many semesters or even years. So, I keep experimenting and changing things around every term.
I have expressed by lack of enthusiasm for the mainstream first-year comp texts out there many times before and in different venues. It is not that there aren't any "good" texts out there, but their cost really doesn't make any sense to me or my students, especially given the undeniable fact that we won't be able to go through everything in a 600-page reader in one semester.
So, I am looking at online texts. Because I teach a section of the course which focuses on rhetoric of science and the impact of science and technology on society, luckily there are some good choices out there. I am currently considering, among other things, Amy Harmon's Pulitzer Prize winning series The DNA Age. If these texts were to become my students composition "reader," then I could supplement them with some texts of writing, reading, and rhetoric, plus use of the free "handbook style" websites for grammar, citations, and mechanics.
The search continues.
My friend and colleague Charlie Lowe and I are starting a new publishing project entitled Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Writing Spaces is a series of "volumes" of essays on composition written by writing teachers for students. Readers will be able to download essays at no cost. Should someone want a printed copy, we have partnered with Parlor Press to provide on-demand printing.
Essay submissions will be peer reviewed by the members of our editorial board who are all respected figures in composition studies. That will give our authors the opportunity to claim their essay as another academic publication in their CV
We are, of course, not the first ones to undertake an open source textbook project, and there have been some very successful open access texts in the past. However, we are among the first few in composition.
It has been very exciting so far, and many people have been supportive of this project. We thanks the members of our Editorial Board. We also thank Parlor Press and Dave Blakesley in particular, and the WAC Clearinghouse and Mike Palmquist, for agreeing to be our partners in this project. We thanks our departments, The School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication at JMU and The Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University, for sponsoring this project.
So, if you want to be a part of this exciting project, go to our website, check out the call for proposals, and send your proposal our way.