In the old days, college bookstores were great places to find books you couldn’t find in ordinary bookstores. However if you visit a college bookstore today, they seem to sell fewer books and more merchandise with the school’s logo plastered across the front. Instead of calling the place a bookstore, it’s more accurate to call it a gift shop instead.
At the UCSD (University of California, San Diego) bookstore, you can see a two-story building that once housed books on both floors. Now the book shelves look more like an afterthought in favor of clothes, toys, and souvenirs. If you think print books aren’t going away, just study old and current pictures of what the UCSD bookstore used to look like to see how they’ve transitioned from selling books to selling anything but books.
Oddly, even the textbooks required by different classes are largely obsolete. On one shelf you can see copies of classic novels such as ”Treasure Island” or “Moby Dick.” Yet why should any professor require students to buy a classic novel when it’s in the public domain and can be easily found for free (legally) on the Internet? Anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer can download classic novels for free and save themselves the cost of buying a classic novel in print.
Ordinary textbooks are way overpriced and go out of date rapidly so the publisher can sell a newer edition with marginal changes. This scam has been going on for decades. For textbooks involving history or science, such updates are necessary, but how much has algebra or calculus changed that requires brand new textbooks every few years?
To break this stranglehold of textbook gouging, e-books offer a more promising solution. Apple’s iBooks Author is designed to let teachers create their own material and distribute it with text, graphics, audio, and video. On the other hand, Amazon offers a new Kindle Textbook Creator designed to add a limited amount of interactivity to PDF files.
The idea behind Kindle Textbook Creator is to make it easy to convert existing textbooks to e-books with dictionary look-up, notebook, highlighting and flashcards. In other words, Kindle Textbook Creator is also steering textbook authors towards interactivity.
The future of e-books is interactivity, not static text and graphics that resembles a printed book. If you’re just writing novels, static text is fine and that’s the immediate future of e-books for now. However if you’re writing non-fiction, interactivity will be crucial, so look for ways to make your e-book more interesting to read and learn from than plain text and fixed graphics.
Since both iBooks Author and Kindle Textbook Creator are free, you might as well try both since both point the way to a future of interactive e-books. The future is coming faster than you think. When interactive textbooks arrive, perhaps we can drive a stake through expensive printed textbooks for good.