It’s the central paradox of 21st-century college students: Despite embracing radically new ways of communicating with each other and learning about the world, they still remain wedded to the old-fashioned, paper-bound textbook.
That steadfast commitment to the printed page isn’t shared only by students. But sensing an opportunity among early adopters – and possibly signaling a shift in people’s preferences – two companies recently bet that the time is ripe for nudging a change in reading habits. So far, it’s too early to tell whether Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader Digital Book will be considered a success at luring customers willing to try out a new paradigm; like many promising technologies before it, e-books have perpetually remained on the verge of taking off. But those hardware devices, and other efforts sure to come down the pipeline in the near future, echo a broader attempt by companies across the publishing world to apply the technology and economics of iTunes to the written word.
The textbook industry is no exception. Over the past year, a consortium of major textbook publishers and several competing ventures have been getting ready for a new push in what is becoming a small but steadily growing fraction of the overall market for college students. “Those efforts are starting to crack the surface of digital content being a serious growing enterprise in higher education,” said Evan Schnittman, vice president of business development and rights for Oxford University Press’s academic and U.S. divisions. McGraw-Hill Education, for example, offers almost 95 percent of its textbooks as e-books, and the publisher has seen a steady growth in interest over the past several years, albeit from a small base….