Textbook Publishers and the Digital Text

First It Was Song Downloads. Now It’s Organic Chemistry

Compared with music publishers, textbook publishers have been relatively protected from piracy by the considerable trouble entailed in digitizing a printed textbook. Converting the roughly 1,300 pages of “Organic Chemistry” into a digital file requires much more time than ripping a CD.

Time flies, however, if you’re having a good time plotting righteous revenge, and students seem angrier than ever before about the price of textbooks. More students are choosing used books over new; sales of a new edition plunge as soon as used copies are available, in the semester following introduction; and publishers raise prices and shorten intervals between revisions to try to recoup the loss of revenue — and the demand for used books goes up all the more.

Used book sales return nothing to publishers and authors. Digital publishing, however, offers textbook publishers a way to effectively destroy the secondary market for textbooks: they now can shift the entire business model away from selling objects toward renting access to a site with a time-defined subscription, a different thing entirely.

The transition has already begun, even while publishers continue to sell print editions. […]

Although the tone is a little negative, one does have to ask whether, with regularly updated online editions, the publishers have come up with a better product? And, again, are at least trying to better their product, rather than adopting the record industry’s attitude of product stagnation and consumer litigation?