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Old 08-15-2005, 03:48 PM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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McGraw and Zinio offer digital textbooks at half-price

This probably won't impress e-book fans, but McGraw-Hill Higher Education and Zinio are teaming up to bring 150 or so digital textbooks to computer-savvy students. The digital editions are available at about 50 percent off list price and can be viewed online on any computer with an Internet connection or downloaded to an individual's computer (not both).

While online viewing allows access from any computer, you'll be given a limited set number of page-views of the book and only one free option to print it out in full. The second option, e-book downloads, requires Zinio Reader to be installed on your Windows or Mac machine. A downloaded e-book cannot be transferred to another computer. As far as it appears it doesn't expire. You will be able to print your e-book pages as often as you want, unless the publisher chooses to restrict printing rights. Some download Zinio books will offer flash, video and audio rich media content.

Zinio has a few samples online:
For more check out their Web site and also this Flash presentation.

Related: The doomed to fail e-book experiment at Princeton and some other schools which was announced last week.
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Old 08-15-2005, 04:06 PM   #2
Bob Russell
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Not too bad a deal if you can print the whole thing once using a pdf print driver. Unless it errors out, at least you can then be confident that technology changes are unlikely to steal your copy away from you or that you'll "run out of page views." Come on! But if I could print to unprotected pdf, I'd probably consider buying my books that way.

There may be problems though. On a college campus with lots of poor cash-strapped students with zero extra cash, odds are it would just get passed around to everyone instead of being purchased. And textbooks/reference books are my least favorite type of ebook. The interface is great for reading text front to back, but some books you just want to be able to flip through with your fingers and see lots of pages fast on real paper. Can't really get close to that unless you have a tablet pc.

Good thing is that if people like this kind of ebook, they'll really love "regular books"! And it might even save a few backs from early back pain!
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Old 08-15-2005, 04:23 PM   #3
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  1. You can't sell your 'textbook' at the end of the year to regain some of the money you spent on it. Even at a 50% discount, its not worth it to throw that money away. I still have textbooks from school here, from 20 years ago, and they still work fine. Will this electronic version work in 20 years? Not likely.
  2. You can't transfer it from one computer to another (and as anyone who uses a computer at college knows, computers get stolen/wiped a LOT). What happens if you go home for break, and want to read your textbooks on your home computer? What if you use a PC at school and a Mac at home? Bzzt.
  3. You can't trust that the material in the electronic version is the same exact material as the printed version (without visually comparing them of course). There was a report released in the last 6 months that basically described how one teacher's curriculum was subtly rewritten by changing a few paragraphs in his textbook over the years, changing history essentially. With digital media, this becomes even more possible.
  4. Printing a copy, even a 1-time copy, now exceeds the original purchase price of the book. Not only do you have to spend money on paper, ink, time, etc. but you don't get a bound, annotated, ISBN copy of that work.
I hope this "test" fails, and fails miserably. There are lots of advantaged to printed books, over electronic books (and yes, electronic books are superior in some ways, but not all)
  1. You can write in them, annotate pages, highlight passages
  2. You can refer to the printed book while away from anything electronic, such as on a train, camping, whatever.
  3. Your ability to read the book doesn't stop when the batteries run out
  4. You can lend your bound book to a friend, or borrow one from a friend.
  5. You can read it in a side-by-side fashion, vs. one huge long scrolling page of electronic PDF. To this day, I still have not seen a proper electronic book reader that allows pages to be viewed side-by-side. Microsoft Word 2003 has this feature (but horribly distorts font sizes when used... sigh, typical of them to screw something like that up), but no dedicated reader that I know of has this, and certainly not in a way that supports free formats.
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Old 09-13-2005, 07:20 PM   #4
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Thoughts on digital textbooks

Last year, as part of my "senior project" at Stanford, I worked with Zinio to gather feedback about digital textbooks from students. There were some students who didn't like the idea of reading on the screen. However, a majority really liked the digital textbooks offered by Zinio. Since the project was completed in the spring, Zinio has dramatically improved their reader.

Hacker, have you checked out their new version? It is nothing at all like a giant pdf. Multimedia features are embedded in the pages, navigation is extremely easy, and you can digitally annotate, take notes, and highlight. Plus, you can search the text for words and phrases, a feature students found extremely useful.

The Zinio textbooks are half the price of the regular printed versions, and they never expire.

Digital textbooks are exact replicas of the printed texts. Neither the publishers nor Zinio would have any incentive to change the texts... the whole selling point is that they are exact replicas of the printed versions.

There are some important issues still to be worked out. First, you are right that some students really don't like the restriction of being able to access the textbook on only one computer. I don't know what Zinio is going to do about this problem, but I know they are working with the publishers to consider various solutions.

There are always going to be people who prefer printed textbooks. However, for those who like the digital features, like paying half as much, like not having to lug around heavy books all the time, care about saving trees and eliminating waste, and don't mind reading on screens, digital textbooks are a nice alternative to printed texts.
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Old 09-13-2005, 07:50 PM   #5
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That's and interesting discussion. I've tried Zinio in the past and I have to admit for reading full-length magazines I like it much better than Adobe Acrobat. But would I use it to replace a college textbook? Perhaps it requires some practice, but somehow I think I'd be much faster annotating and skimming through paper textbooks than through an electronic edition.

Do you have any numbers from your project comparing studends pro and against using digital textbooks?
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