Thursday, January 28, 2010

Will the iPad and Kindle Kill Traditional Textbooks?

TONS of news lately on the new Apple iPad and Kindle's response to it.Some people are wondering whether traditional textbooks will be dead soon.

A blog on the British Medical Journal Group Blog asks whether recent technologies will kill off medical textbooks on paper. The blogger, Harry Brown, takes the position that yes, they will indeed kill paper texts and probably in the not so distant future.

Me, I'm not so sure.

I absolutely believe that the iPad, Kindle DX, and lots of other technologies are changing the way people buy and use clinical content, and I LOVE it. These technologies offer many features that print-on-paper (POP) products simply can't.

Yet there's something about paper, something about holding a book, about writing in the margins and highlighting key passages that make traditional textbooks important learning tools. We've seen attempts at schools going all-electronic falter because the students found the devices (the Kindle DX at Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison) too cumbersome, especially for bookmarking, highlighting, and taking notes.

Certainly the technologies will improve and e-books will find a place in education. Absolutely. Bet the farm on it.

But they will not universally replace books just as television didn't universally replace radio, the internet didn't universally replace TV, and so on.

These devices present another option for the user, and for some applications in education, they'll make perfect sense. For others, they'll fall far short.

Same with POP products. They just don't make sense for certain pedagogical applications anymore, which is one of the reasons why all of us textbook publishers are scrambling to provide electronic ancillaries, to supplement the books with what they can't do very well, things like interactivity, rapid searchability, that kind of thing.

That doesn't mean technology will kill textbooks, it just means that the way we develop and present textbooks, and the way we link them with technology, will change. It HAS to change, the market is demanding it.

And we'll do it, we'll change. Actually we already are, and we'll continue to adapt to the technologies and we'll continue to sell paper textbooks because they offer things e-books can't.

More on that to come…