Textbooks: paper or digital?

The future of books

The question as to when (or if) paper textbooks will be replaced with digital editions keeps cropping up, and I was asked this again on twitter today by @SteljesEdn: “Are textbooks coming to the end of their life? what do you think”: read the discussion we had on the link.

So, will they? I don’t think so, not any time soon at any rate. The digital editions of textbooks currently available are little more than a PDF of the printed version, and for publishers that literally provide a PDF and call it an eBook .. shame on you! An eBook doesn’t have pages as the text is defined by the eReader device or software and can be altered by the individual: you cannot change a PDF text size except by zooming in/out.

In order for digital textbooks to really surpass the paper editions they need to offer more, and by more I mean embrace the technology and have embedded video, links, question & answers, and even link (in real-time?) readers from all over the world. They need to bring what is available from different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Evernote, DropBox, etc.) in to the text in real-time (hence the device and eTextbook needs to be connected) and encourage connection, collaboration, and social learning from not only the cohort of students they are studying the course and text with, but also anyone else studying the text, from wherever they may be in the world.

Here’s a post of mine from 2011 – The Future of eBooks … my vision – you can see how my thinking has changed (not much) on the issue of eBooks and how they could/should develop. It is also key, for me, that this development is not based around the provision of the textbook an App, but of the technology and application of it for a true digital textbook.

Until the technology can present the textbook in a way that we can easily find pages and passages we’ve highlighted, that we can make notes and easily transfer out, that we can share and engage with the content and other readers, etc. I know much of this can be done in various ways at the moment in different systems, but few publishers have made their texts available in these mobile formats to be of any use.

For the moment I will still buy eBooks for leisure reading and some reference materials (like Ignatia de Waard’s book on MOOCs or Euan Semple’s book on tweeting), but for the meatier and heavier content I’ll get the paper edition and pad out my book shelf a little more.

Image Source: The Future of Books by Johan Larsson (CC BY 2.0)

Note: the original idea for this post, which has been sat waiting for me to flesh it out for some weeks, was based around an Infographic. In light of the tweets I shared with @SteljesEdn and @dannynic this morning I’ve used it to reignite my ideas and passion for what textbooks could be like if we can get the publishers to help develop and push the boundaries.