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Old 09-08-2009, 01:07 PM   #1
Nate the great
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On the rising Tower of eBabel

Last week McGraw-Hill announced a new digital format for textbooks, which they named McGraw-Hill Connect. You can read more about it in an article from the Chronicles of Higher Education. This is not a good thing. While there has been a push in the fiction ebook market towards fewer formats, the number of formats for reference titles has been going up. The list now includes:

And that's just the places where I've _found_ reference titles. (I'm sure I missed at least one. In fact, I know I left out 2 that are so specialized you've probably never heard of them.) There are times that I wonder if the publishing industry is trying to set ebooks back another decade.

One thing that I know will be accomplished is that prices of digital textbook won't go down any time soon. Given that publishers have chosen to fragment their sales among multiple DRM systems, they won't see the cost savings that they would have had with only one format.

Adoption of digital textbooks is also being slowed by the multitude of formats. This has a range of causes from students simply not being able to find the book to resistance against supporting _another_ format. (That resistance does exist, and coping with it is the responsibility of the publisher, not the consumer.)

Last edited by Nate the great; 09-08-2009 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 09-08-2009, 01:19 PM   #2
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Some reasons for using a new format instead of an existing one:
1) Existing format(s) might not support some necessary features (e.g. mobi and fonts).
2) Using an existing format might require an expensive license, or the format owner might refuse the license
3) Using a new format allows the company to fully control its development and not rely on someone else
4) Using a new format allows the company to control its use (e.g. implement/change DRM, charge for the viewer program etc.)

I guess in the end it's most probably going to bite them in their backs but a lot of people are not able to see beyond the immediate gain.
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:24 PM   #3
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Check the wiki if you really want to see how many formats there are. it is a lot more than you might know about. Thanks for the new one. I agree that yet another format is bad but it may be just DRM on an existing one. It is worth investigating.

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Old 09-08-2009, 02:32 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaleDe View Post
Check the wiki if you really want to see how many formats there are. it is a lot more than you might know about. Thanks for the new one. I agree that yet another format is bad but it may be just DRM on an existing one. It is worth investigating.

Dale
Well, yes, but how many of those formats can I buy reference titles in? That's the point of the list above.

Last edited by Nate the great; 09-08-2009 at 02:34 PM.
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Old 09-08-2009, 03:17 PM   #5
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"connect" sounds awfully like browser-reading..
Then again, it's McGraw-Hill we're talking about.
Edit: I braved my fear, and opened the link.
Quote:
In some ways, the latest e-textbooks from McGraw-Hill and others compete with course-management software offered by Blackboard and other companies, though publishers say they are working in partnership with those companies rather than as rivals.
Whoop-dee-doo. Browsing it is.
And there's more.
Quote:
The company is urging professors to require the electronic textbooks for their courses, rather than leave it up to students whether they buy a printed book or an e-textbook. The company also sells a bundle that includes both the printed book and the e-book, because the company's research found that some students prefer print books to do their initial reading but electronic versions to review later. Of course, if students buy both, that also means even more revenue for the publishers. (For a Principals of Management textbook, the e-book and online tools cost $80, while a bundle that also includes the printed book costs $178.)
Read: If students are forced to buy the e-text, and buy the printed version out of sheer despair.

Anyway, Nate: I don't think you have to be afraid that there will be yet another format, as this probably won't be readable in an ebook reader.

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Old 09-08-2009, 03:25 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zerospinboson View Post
"connect" sounds awfully like browser-reading..
Then again, it's McGraw-Hill we're talking about.
Edit: I braved my fear, and opened the link.

Whoop-dee-doo. Browsing it is.
And there's more.

Read: If students are forced to buy the e-text, and buy the printed version out of sheer despair.

Anyway, Nate: I don't think you have to be afraid that there will be yet another format, as this probably won't be readable in an ebook reader.
This really looks like a teaching system rather than an eBook format. It includes lots more than just reading.

Dale
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Old 09-08-2009, 03:42 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaleDe View Post
This really looks like a teaching system rather than an eBook format. It includes lots more than just reading.

Dale
Sure, but McG-H talks about how wonderful it will be for students and teachers alike to instantly be able to answer questions about read material, which rather suggests that the reading will have to be done online.
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Old 09-08-2009, 03:56 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zerospinboson View Post
Anyway, Nate: I don't think you have to be afraid that there will be yet another format, as this probably won't be readable in an ebook reader.
Yes it will be readable in an ebook reader:

your computer!


The best reader for reference books is a computer, not a dedicated device. Also, "ebook reader" doesn't refer just to hardware; it also includes software.

Last edited by Nate the great; 09-08-2009 at 04:05 PM. Reason: swapped feet in my mouth
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:02 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post
Yes it will be readable in an ebook reader:

your computer!


What you need to understand is that the best reader for reference books is a computer, not a dedicated device. Also, you are making a mistake in assuming "ebook reader" refers just to hardware, not software.
Excuse me? "What I need to understand"? Are you trying for condescending often, or is this a one-time slip of the fingers?..
I'm quite aware of the fact that I can read books on my computer, thanks.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:04 PM   #10
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Excuse me? "What I need to understand"? Are you trying for condescending often, or is this a one-time slip?..
Oops. I changed it.

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Old 09-08-2009, 04:17 PM   #11
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Oops. I changed it.
Thanks. My point, however, was that they're comparing it to Blackboard. And that we're talking about an initiative by McGraw-Hill (i.e., whose first concern is their bottom line, specifically by getting control over the reseller market [preferably by banning it/making it impossible]).
In any case, it sounds as though a browser is all you will need in order to be able to participate in this 'learning experience'. (As long as they have Flash player, from the looks of it). So it's not really a 'format' as such, just a website, supposedly with additional content so as to make it appealing and make it seem as though you're getting the better end of the deal.


Disclaimer: I don't necessarily hate McGraw-Hill, as I don't encounter them much in my studies, but I do think their idea of how best to profit from printing education materials is quite horrible.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:48 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zerospinboson View Post
Sure, but McG-H talks about how wonderful it will be for students and teachers alike to instantly be able to answer questions about read material, which rather suggests that the reading will have to be done online.
I couldn't tell from the description about whether it has to be online but maybe so. These days of wifi there could be a server on campus that serves the books, captures the homework, grades the tests, etc. Online and offline become basically a mute point.
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:01 PM   #13
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When I got my 505, I was looking forward to using it for text books, since my school's bookstore was bandying about ADE, only to find out, that it is on a small percentage of books (none of which I needed). E-textbooks are a dead market till they are supported by stuff other than computers.
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:27 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zerospinboson View Post
Thanks. My point, however, was that they're comparing it to Blackboard. And that we're talking about an initiative by McGraw-Hill (i.e., whose first concern is their bottom line, specifically by getting control over the reseller market [preferably by banning it/making it impossible]).
In any case, it sounds as though a browser is all you will need in order to be able to participate in this 'learning experience'. (As long as they have Flash player, from the looks of it). So it's not really a 'format' as such, just a website, supposedly with additional content so as to make it appealing and make it seem as though you're getting the better end of the deal.


Disclaimer: I don't necessarily hate McGraw-Hill, as I don't encounter them much in my studies, but I do think their idea of how best to profit from printing education materials is quite horrible.
Except that the "only needs a browser" statement applies equally well to CourseSmart, NetLibrary, and Safari.
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Old 09-08-2009, 06:18 PM   #15
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O_o This is turning into a rerun of the modern history of digital music distribution. Remember all those snazzy DRM audio file formats being launched by this or that company? Mp3 and piracy steamrolled the heck out of them.

The way things are going the clueless ebook biz will be steamrolled even harder.

These are facts: there's already a multi million peer community of seasoned p2p users, well experienced with downloading mp3's, tv series and films. There are groups releasing ebook releases. Ebook torrent sites are cropping up. The files are smaller (~1 MB for a book compared to 75 MB for one album) and so faster to copy and easier to store. The average user has seen bandwidth and storage capacity increase massively since the first wave of music piracy. And finally the incentives to pirate ebooks are even stronger since textbooks are more expensive than ever.

The above means that as soon as an ebook reader with decent features and low price comes along ebook piracy will pick up speed and mass adoption exponentially. Eat that, format war.
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