Macmillan's Future Of Textbooks Looks a Lot Like Wikipedia

Textbook publisher Macmillan is hip the ways of the internet, see! They're rolling out a new product/concept/news item called DynamicBooks, which lets instructors change the content of online textbooks, even if they didn't write them. And why not?

The practicality of the DynamicBooks concept will almost immediately be overshadowed by kneejerk criticism, so let's just get that out of the way now: Yes, the editing method resembles Wikipedia, and yes, a professor could conceivably replace a passage that conflicts with his research, partially out of genuine belief but more out of spite against the guy who got his work published in A Comparative Gender Theorist's Guide to Infant Osteopathy instead of said professor, but that's not what DynamicBooks is for, or what it will be used for. In reality, it represents a ceding of control by a notoriously stodgy and monolithic industry, which an only be a good thing.

Think of it this way: With DynamicBooks, an instructor can order the chapters in the book to fit a practical syllabus; he can supplement the textbook directly, with links and extra material instead of disorganized handouts; he can essentially assemble an entire class worth of material atop the skeleton provided by the textbook, which is what professors do anyway, albeit in a much more complicated, ad-hoc fashion. As long as it's clear—and this is very important—which parts of the material have been added after the fact, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

More to the point, it's a step toward electronic textbooks, and away from the bizarre economy of print textbooks. DynamicBooks textbooks, which will accessible on an computer, as well as the iPhone (and presumably the iPad) will be much—about 50%—cheaper than print textbooks, which are sold at high prices with the expectation that they'll later be resold.

MacMillan's first 100 titles will start "printing" in August, just in time for this year's crop of freshmen, uniformly equipped either with iPads, or about four months' worth of Zune-style iPad flop jokes. [NYT]