Nature, the company that created Scitable, is now entering the cheap textbooks for college market:
Scitable is a free learning community mainly focused on life sciences, created by Nature that has recently launched “Principles of Biology”, a college level electronic textbook focused on biology. Drawing upon their experience with Scitable, Nature has made this new college textbook full of interactive features like online grade book for instructors, quizzes and assessments, and more. What is perhaps most notable about this biology college textbook release is that upgrades of new content is free for life – hello answer to cheap textbooks for college.
So how much is Nature asking for this biology textbook – is it really a cheap book? Nature is only charging $50 for this electronic textbook with free upgrades for life. However, couldn’t someone find all this information online for free? Perhaps, but Nature has taken this into account:
There is some DRM, but the most important part of the anti-piracy strategy we’ve chosen for this program is ensuring that the real product, in its home context, is so effective that there is a significant disincentive to break the rules. For example, we integrate assessments into every page of the textbook, and those assessments feed directly into the online gradebook that instructors will use to keep tabs on their students’ progress. Without purchasing full access to the digital product, students won’t be able to feed into the gradebook, which should dramatically undermine their ability to get a passing grade. Similarly, we make it very easy for instructors to customize the interactive textbook while they are adopting it, which means that any pirated version floating around won’t help students to be aligned with their own class. Perhaps some people will take the time to find ways to get around the rules. But at the same time the relative ease of use of this product will be, I believe, very appealing to a generation that’s grown up online, and will be a strong selling point of the program.
$50 for a used textbook for college is cheap, let alone considering one where the content will always be updated free of charge. Vikram Savkar of Nature feels that their college textbooks are born “digital” and designed to capitalize upon that new and exciting platform instead of just putting the same content from a regular college textbook into ereader format. Savkar also states that the constant updating is also essential to ensuring continued value of their biology textbook by keeping it updated and easily searchable:
It’s quite time consuming to dig through your old boxes, dust off a book from ten years ago, and flip through a few hundred pages to find the tidbit you were looking for (only to discover that it’s now out of date). What if searching your old textbooks were as easy as typing a term into Google? And if you had the confidence that someone behind the scenes was keeping them up to date and rigorously high quality? I think you’d find that you would refer to many of your textbooks over time. You’d hear a news story about genomics, for example, but no longer remember exactly what it is, do a quick search on your Nature platform, and within a half an hour be back up to speed.
So not only are they offering a cheap textbooks solution, but one that will stay current and useful. Savkar summarizes, “I believe we’re moving into an age when textbooks can be lifelong tools, rather than short-lived supplies for one college class.”
“Principles of Biology” is meant to be read on a Kindle or Nook, nor on a tablet like the iPad, Kno, or even Android platform, but rather a browser based experience to be able to reach the largest audience:
In the first place, because it’s browser-based it will natively be accessible on essentially any internet-enabled device; no one will ever have to wait for us to roll out an app for whatever new device they have just purchased. In the second place, a browser-based book is more accessible to screen readers and other devices for disabled students. Third, for the basic purchase price we will give students lifetime access to the material . . . and our editorial team will keep the content current as the state of science evolves, so that even after 5 years the former student, when returning to their college textbook, will find that it’s completely up to date. Lifetime access is difficult to picture for many kinds of app-based books, because of how rapidly the underlying technologies and devices will evolve; whereas a browser-based solution has a good likelihood, in our opinion, of being accessible decades from now. Fourth, because all of the content and data for the book is stored in the cloud, access is not locked to a particular machine, or even to any set of machines. Students can use the interactive textbook from any machine they happen to be at, so long as they remember their user name and password, with no new set-up.
Nature offers a variety of social and peer to peer features on the Scitable platform, but removed those in their cheap textbooks in favor of instructor defined online assessments and grade books. They hope to integrate with existing content management systems already in place at other colleges nationwide including Blackboard and Desire2Learn. Nature.com wisely choose to utilize HTML 5 as their base to ensure compatibility of their interactive features across all features including iOS for the iPad.
Nature has a very interesting electronic solution for cheap textbooks for college with several unique twists that could be the start of great things in the world of cheap textbooks – finally.