Archive for September, 2008

More on textbooks going online, cheap, and sometimes with wiki-like content

Monday, September 15th, 2008

More info in today’s New York Times about the trend away from students buying textbooks at incredibly high prices. The marketplace was destined to crumble, and today’s story provides this quote:

A broader effort to publish free textbooks is called Connexions (, which was the brainchild of Richard G. Baraniuk, an engineering professor at Rice University, which has received $6 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In addition to being a repository for textbooks covering a wide range of subjects and educational levels, its ethic is taken from the digital music world, he said — rip, burn and mash.

Unlike other projects that share course materials, notably OpenCourseWare at M.I.T., Connexions uses broader Creative Commons license allowing students and teachers to rewrite and edit material as long as the originator is credited. Teachers put up material, called “modules,” and then mix and match their work with others’ to create a collection of material for students. “We are changing textbook publishing from a pipeline to an ecosystem,” he said.

The article is Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free by NOAM COHEN.

The link is this:

Seems that once all the individual new-style, cheap/free/open source publishing efforts link up, we’ll soon be at a critical mass. Wonder if anyone is playing matchmaker? And where will be the revenues to satisfy all those who have and are investing tens of millions into the various new style textbook initiatives?

Getting closer to the eBook reader that will catch on

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Certainly the folks behind Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s eBook Reader and other devices are trying valiantly to reach some sort of threshold or tipping point whereby their device will become as ubiquitous as Apple’s iPod is for listening to music. I have no doubt we will get to that point someday — and sales of printed books, newspapers and magazines will plummet just as have the sales of music CDs.

If you want another parallel, think about how video stores will be closing as we all take up downloading movies instead of going to your local Blockbuster or Pic-a-Flic store.

Back to eBook devices… my point is that Amazon, Sony, iRex et al are missing the boat. The device that will change book publishing will not be primarily a book reader — instead it will be a general purpose device: cell phone, music player, PDA, camera, recorder, projector, gaming device, TV, web browser, emailer, etc., etc. Given that concept, the device has to be portable (i.e. small) yet have a big enough display.

How do you get both small and big? By having a flexible display that rolls or folds up. Seems that a company called Bridgestone [yes, the tire company] has a working prototype of a thin, light, flexible, colour (!) display that uses e-Ink technology, so the power usage is very low and there is no need for a backlight on the screen. Check it out at this link:

Now imagine a cel phone that is tube-shaped, and has a rolled-up, pull-out screen. Seems we are getting closer to the breakthrough device rather quickly.

For more commentary on the future of newspapers, anticipating these digital reading devices, check out a New York Times story:

A small-but-large, flexible reader due to be unveiled this month is from Plastic Logic of Cambridge, UK. Go to They’ve got $200M US in venture funding, an indication that big money is chasing ‘small’ change.