They are now preventing the educational experience from getting better, by fighting against the societal benefits of ever-cheaper information technology and an ever-more-pervasive network.
In fact, they are aggressively making the educational experience worse: they invest considerable resources to make textbooks harder to use (e.g., DRM, lawsuits)!
IMO these publishers are now net destroyers of societal wealth. What a shame.
[EDIT: I toned down the post, and got rid of unnecessary all-caps.]
If you disagree, run this issue through the GUCCI KNOCKOFF TEST: would this product have even close to the same value or marketability if it weren't for its close resemblance to the original?
If they were to use the same material (in this case reworked Wikipedia articles for the most part) but not use existing layouts/curriculum would it have the same value to university students?
In my view, their production costs would rise substantially because they would need to hire curriculum experts and their get to market strategy would disappear as they lost their value to university students.
I'm frankly surprised that their investors bought the "alignment" argument.
This is significantly different than actually creating open textbooks from scratch (e.g. the CK-12 Foundation). I'm not suprised they got sued.
Shouldn't they be more regulated then?
And the real threat is from iBooks, but they won't dare go after Apple.
If you can't innovate, litigate and legislate.
EDIT: here's a link to book mentioned in article - http://www.amazon.com/Campbell-Biology-MasteringBiology-9th-...
However, they do have a remarkable number of digital initiatives. Checkout Pearson's partnership with Knewton for a great example.
From the description, it just seems like the boundless version is inspired by the "paper" textbooks - but inspiration and copying ideas is the source of culture. But really, I would need to see both the books themselves and the boundless version to judge.
Fighting this to the end could eat up a substantial amount of Venrock's $8M.
I'm not familiar with the "look and feel" of books being found to be copyrightable in existing case law. There are a lot of books that are pretty similar to each other out there.
Is there complex information in the ordering and organization of a 2000 page text book. I would tend to say yes, although I look forward to seeing what the courts say.
Yet "When asked to describe how his company pulls together the open-education content to produce its digital textbooks, Mr. Diaz declined to elaborate on the process" and so the publishers ended getting to establish the first and only concept of the company to a huge audience. And it's not like people can check out the website for themselves, since it's in closed beta.
Staying quiet here really doesn't seem to have been the best strategy.
That's what's happening here. These companies are barking because they are starting to see motion in a direction that does not benefit them and they are not ready to pivot towards.
I must admit to not having evaluated what Boundless offers. I have not idea if they are trying to copy layout and design while inserting different words in the book. Or maybe their approach is to provide substantially the same content while being guided by the content of specific printed books. I suppose that dissection will be left up to the courts.
Here is what I do know: Printed textbooks could certainly be made and sold for less. How much have algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, history, geography, philosophy, etc. changed over the years for all but the most advanced levels of study? Not much, if at all. You could easily argue that, by now, a subject such as Trigonometry --where nothing new has happened for quite some time-- ought to result in free or near-free books. Nothing new needs to be written.
Yet, new books are printed and old books are discarded every year. And these new books are very, very expensive for no good reason. If you can buy a 400 page book from Amazon for $20 there's no reason for a textbook on most subjects to cost a penny more than this. If anything it should probably cost less.
Why in the world does a book on Biology sell for $152?
A long time ago I read a very interesting book on business failures. I don't recall the exact title. It was something like "Why good companies fail". One of the key premises in the book was that companies that might lead or have a significant presence in a particular industry tend to ignore revolutionary change in their industry due to being really good about managing their existing business.
This seems counterintuitive. Good management == Failure?
Yes, that can and has happened many times. The book covered a wide range of industries, from the back-hoe tractor business to the hard drive industry. In every case-study the authors showed how the market-leader ignored what was going to be the next big thing out of an effort to protect and continue to grow and optimize their existing business.
On the hard drive industry they tell the story of Seagate ignoring some of their engineers clamoring to build 3.5in hard drives. The managers, perhaps rightly so, are claimed to have said that IBM (their largest customer) did not want smaller drives with lesser capacity but rather the same 5.25in drives with greater capacity. They dismissed the engineers as not understanding their business and told them that they could do whatever they wanted with the useless 3.5in prototypes they designed and built on their own time. They left the company and started Conner Peripherals, which, for some time, owned the hard drive market and revolutionized it with their new small drives.
I may not have the story precisely right because I don't recall all the details from when I read the book. The point of the story is mechanism to failure, which is what matters here. I also found this presentation that hits on this and other causes for failures:
I think the bottom line is that these companies have a really high probability of going extinct if they don't learn to adapt and figure out how to evolve rather than trying to do business as they have been doing for so long. The cheese moved.
Litigation is one of the most perplexing things in business, at least for me. I've been around and have the scars to prove it. And, for the life of me I can't figure out why companies engage in this suicidal ritual for the dumbest of reasons.
One of my favorite examples is company A filing a lawsuit to collect on a debt from company B during the economic downturn. The scenario I witnessed was almost surreal. Company B pleaded with company A and demonstrated that orders had stopped and customers simply could not get financing to purchase widgets from company B. Company A --a multi-billion-dollar entity-- did not want to reason and filed a lawsuit. Company B's CEO pleaded for patience and reaffirmed that the was no ill-will here, it was a simple matter of arithmetic: Not enough money was coming in to pay debts. Whatever was coming in had to be devoted to keeping people employed and making sure that the company could continue to exist in order to recover once things turned around. Nobody would listen.
Company B was forced into filing bankruptcy. Company A got absolutely nothing out of the whole experiment other than forcing an otherwise good business into bankruptcy and loosing a valuable customer for life. Those running Company B started another business in the same industry two years later. Do you think they are doing business with Company A now?
Sorry for the detour there. The point is that litigation is like being critical of someone's looks or weight. It only breeds negativity in the relationship. It seldom produces the desire to cooperate and find ways to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
These companies would probably be better served by seeking to form a partnership with the revolutionaries in order to ensure that they are the ones who survive the transition.
There is no doubt that education will see massive changes over the next decade. And, rightly so. From books to, unionized teachers, testing, government-driven curriculum and the way education is managed and dispensed, the entire industry is, of their own doing, ripe for take-over by new ideas that are sure to make it better.
Textbooks are more than just reference manuals. They're meant to teach. Teaching practices have most certainly advanced over the years.
I agree the price of new textbooks is ridiculous considering most editions change very little year-to-year, but please don't say "Nothing new needs to be written." It's not so much what is written— it's how it's written.
The need for new material in something like a math book is truly rare. In the past twenty years, we've developed new instructional technologies, but a textbook really shouldn't be tied to a specific brand of calculator or programming language. I'm currently teaching precalculus using a 1994 edition. It's got some exercises to be done using a computer, and has some sample code in BASIC, but they're easily adapted to modern tools. I'm also making use of a textbook published in 1967, because it does a better job at explaining certain topics. Sure, the word problems have prices in cents instead of dollars, but that doesn't make it any less effective.
I'm using those old books because they are the best books I have available. I have newer books available, but they eschew clarity for colorfulness and newer "teaching practices" that only get in the way of actually teaching.
Or did you think everyone learns best the same way?
Wouldn't that make sense? I feel like bad textbooks have given the idea of text books a bad name. And I don't think this is a "no true Scotsman" fallacy. It's more an issue of mostly horrible Scotsman written to align with ridiculous state standards.
It holds student-centric, self-paced products. The big publishers will pound their fists swatting away Boundless and miss the real revolution.
Also, good teachers, teaching from good textbooks, to well fed, happy students is not done often. It's not a terrible approach.
Of course these students who enrolled were mostly self driven knowledge hungry programmers. I have no idea how it generalizes to something like learning long division or historical facts by students who would rather play video games than attend school.
But "student centered education" is definitely a boon to those who crave knowledge and who are not lucky enough to have the best teachers or the best text books to learn from.
As for your second point, I too was a teacher a few years ago. Great teachers can work wonders with a good textbook. For example there is a lot of great evidence/support for the Direct Instruction model which requires extraordinarily well curated material.
But the real question remains, how do we repair our STEM education system in this country (and many other parts of the world) for happier, more capable workers and a more competitive work force?
Student centric learning tools offer amazing potential for scalable and cost effective solutions.
What does that even mean? Self-paced isn't a property of the textbook, it's a property of how it's used.
In addition to the changes in pedagogical approaches that lead to (if not require) constant changes, there's the fact that what we know about the fundamentals of biology is constantly being revised as we learn more. When I was in high school, we didn't yet know the archaea were a totally separate kingdom, and we hadn't yet sequenced anything more than a single celled organisms.
When you add in the fact that different states will have different guidelines as to what needs to go into a textbook, guidelines that are likely lengthy, dense, and opaque, I'm not surprised that some subjects do have very expensive textbooks. Are they too expensive? Probably, but not by as much as one might be tempted to think.
Textbooks also have better quality paper than pulp best sellers.
The real answer is there are no market forces lowering the costs of textbooks.
There are other reasons, like the big advantage that inertia gives you: once your book gets established as the best book in one field, at say $40, you increase the price to $150 b/c the professors already know the book, so there is a big switching cost (for them).
What actually baffles me is why people think this would NOT happen. Align the professor's incentives, and you'll start seeing some change.
That would be "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton M. Christensen.
would this be a legal a problem? Doubt it. What do you guys think?
edit: as for what it's like for 'apple' in the analogy - remember that the 'dell' offer in the actual current story this is an analogy for is then delivered instantly and absolutely free and gratis! :)
It's still kind of crud though, from both sides. Being forced to this type of litigation doesn't speak well for the publishers' futures, but at the same time, being open to this type of accusation at all speaks poorly on the startup's ability to actually create useful product.
Copyright is for the work itself. The physical manifestation of those words in that order. It isn't a lock on the ideas expressed with those words. Reproducing another writers outline is not a violation of copyright.
the 'dell' analogy is even worse if you mean 'reuse' as it's literally the same or equivalent component (the very same or a functionally equivalent a 15 inch screen at such and such resolution). I mean, in the analogy they're by the same suppliers!
the point is that you are saying 'put in the name of the textbook" and we'll try to get as close as possible chapter-by-chapter (component by compoinent) obviously without quite hitting the actual original autho's style? Isn't this what's being claimed?
For the Dell analogy to be correct they'd have to be making these:
(as per the present example).
the free advertising doesn't sound so good now does it? I mean, in this gratis example, are you going to send enough more people to paying $1200+ by having this tool acknowledge that macs are a great gold standard, than the macs will lose to their free competition?
(To get closer to numbers /a bit more formal analysis: Macs, like textbooks, are EXPENSIVE. And it's hardly an inelastic demand curve, like it would be if you could try to find the cheapest and best witch-doctor, non-FDA approved herbal "remedy" that matches a real drug that actually cures the illness but is patented. Yeah, in this case everyone who's right in the head and has enough money will go use the real drug. But as for a $1200 computer vs 'dell' generic 'free'... as for a $120 textbook vs 'open document sources' generic 'free'...)
because that would be the analogy. free advertising for the $120+ textbook (actually how is it really advertising if the user has to put it in themselves, as per the story and per my 'enter a model number' example) - while offering a gratis alternative as close as the tool can get it.
legally I bet it's fine, but great advertising proposition for the entity under fire does not seem to me a solid argument in the present case...
What I alluded to is that should Dell engage in a product comparison campaign with Apple, their approach would probably do more to highlight their shortcomings rather than convince a potential buyer that they should choose price and configuration over experience.
Those two companies may be in the same industry but they are selling very different products to different demographics. It would be like Chevrolet comparing their free tote bag for every purchase with Porsche's optional carfit luggage kit.