The Sugar Labs program for replacing textbooks with free OERs is going to be up against stiff competition. We aren’t worried, but it is worthwhile to be aware of one’s opponents.
Note that one of the reasons to prefer printed textbooks is the ease of making annotations on the pages. OER software will have to develop equivalent or better functions, such as adding live links and the ability to call software right from the page.
Sarah Kessler reports at Mashable.com:
The world’s readers purchased an estimated $966 million of ebooks in 2010, and Amazon has been selling more ebooks than paper books since January. But students have yet to catch on to the digital book revolution with the same fervor. 2010 study by OnCampus Research found that 74% of college students surveyed still prefer to use a printed textbook.
Where some see non-adopters, others see untapped markets, and thus large and small players alike have long been targeting the digital textbook niche. Here are some of the ways they’re looking to get students to trade their print for pixels.
CourseSmart was launched in 2007 as a joint venture with five publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson. The advantage of being backed by major textbook companies is that the site claims to offer “90% of the core textbooks in North American Higher Education as eTextbooks.”
The CourseSmart approach is pretty standard (as the products of huge companies tend to be). Students can choose between a downloadable and online format of their texts. In either version, searchable pages look identical to print copies. As with a print copy, readers can highlight and take notes in the books. Availability on Android, iPhone and iPad apps make the books even portable.
Follett-owned CafeScribe sells books with built-in study networks. Using the company’s software MyScribe, which it calls “iTunes for eBooks,” students can sort, highlight and take notes on the ebooks they buy. But the software also comes with less-standard social features.
Students can join groups to automatically pool their notes and make studying collaborative (professors can also create groups for their classes). Generous students can even make their notes available to everyone else through the platform. When ready to study for the exam, a quick button compiles a summary of selected note sets.
Since Follett runs bookstores on more than 850 campuses in the United States, CafeScribe has some notable advantages in the marketplace. Four hundred campuses use the system in at least one course, according to RWW.
VitalSource is a combination between CourseSmart and CafeScribe. Like CourseSmart, it provides access to textbooks online, in a downloadable format, and from mobile iOS apps. Like CafeScribe, students can choose to share their notes and highlights with just friends or with anyone else who uses the same book.
The platform also has support for videos, web resources and multimedia that are embedded within a limited number of ebooks.
4. enTourage Systems
While other companies are formatting their digital textbooks for ereaders and tablets, enTourage Systems has created its own $500 ereader for that purpose. The company sells the Edge, a device that looks something like a Kindle and a tablet sandwiched together, as well as the textbooks to read on it.
The dual-screens allow students to choose between typing or scribbling notes directly onto the text, attach links to text, search terms within texts online and switch between color views and easy epaper reading. The two screens interact.
In November, the company released a $200 mini version of the product called Pocket Edge that runs on the Android.
Inkling’s iPad textbooks are more than mere print copies. The company packs its titles with quizzes, interactive infographics and tappable key terms. Like CafeScribe, readers can follow each others’ notes, but on the iPad those notes pop up in real time — which means your buddy might answer a question that you have before class actually ends. It also allows students to purchase books by chapter.
“We have a very sophisticated set of software tools that help us gently disassemble a textbook and then reconstruct it from the ground up to make something that really makes sense on an iPad,” Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis told All Things Digital in March.
The downside of this disassembling and reassembling is that a bulk of textbooks aren’t on the platform yet. As of March, there were 14 offerings. A recent multi-million dollar round of funding from McGraw-Hill and Pearson should help expand its library.
6. Nook Study
Barnes & Noble focused on the etextbook game in 2010 with the release of its free desktop ereader, Nook Study. The software allows students to read, search and annotate textbooks, as well as keeps track of course-related documents. Students can also use the Internet to look up definitions and other information, like formulas, directly from the text.