Reconsidering textbooks in a digital world – or – Why a $100 ebook is crazy

I’m jumping back into the world of education as I start studies for a PhD in Higher Ed in about a week, and as I start that journey, I’m reminded of some of the joys of life as a student.

Like that some books cost $150.

Some people are outraged by this. I’m hit with a little sticker shock, but overall, I get the reasons. Publishers frequently attribute the high cost to the resale market. When you publish a textbook, it sells well the first semester then quickly drops off as students sell the book back, and the bookstore sells the used books for less than new.

But here’s what I don’t get (and one of the biggest opportunities in the publishing market). One book I purchased was $122 new and $100 for the Kindle version.

That’s crazy. That’s someone taking an old model and laying it over a new paradigm. Digital scales differently. There’s no incremental cost. And, most importantly for textbooks, it’s really, really hard to have a secondary resale market.

When you sell an ebook, you’re selling something that cannot be resold. The customer purchased the right to view the information. That should change the cost structure, but most publishers are comparing ebooks to the traditional book market and pricing them just a little below physical book pricing,

There is an opportunity here. The ebook market is renewable. Fresh income comes in every semester without demanding a new edition every few years to kill the resale market. Price a $122 textbook at $20 or $30, well below what the bookstores can sell a used hard copy for. You’ll sell more every semester at pure profit. Amazon will take a cut of the money, but even then it’s a better deal.

Or cut Amazon out of the picture and make 100% profit. Textbooks get sold to the professor, not the students. The professor makes the choice and requires (compels?) the students to purchase it. Make it clear an ebook version is for sale on your own website, and the professor can direct the students there. You have a captive audience, and for $100 savings, students will gladly click over to “randompublisherssite.com”. In the end, this benefits the students (more affordable), the teacher (happier students), and the authors (opportunities for a better royalty structure). Everyone wins – except those people buying back used books and selling them for the markup.

Reconsidering textbooks in a digital world – or – Why a $100 ebook is crazy

How Facebook Camera changes the way we share our lives

Facebook is evolving. It’s been a slow shift, but over time, the site’s purpose has changed.

At first, the goal was to collect your friends and acquaintances in one place. You could see what was happening with your best friend and check in on that classmate you haven’t seen since high school.

As the site grew, Zuckerberg and company began to come up with ways to increase user engagement. After all, more time spent on the site equals more ad views, more app use, and more revenue. So, they add the news feed, increase the prominence of status updates, add messenger, create timeline, and now, create a separate camera app.

These are all great ideas. But I think they’ll also create tension for some users of the site. Here’s why.

In the book The Search to Belong, Joseph Myers talks about the various ways people find connection and belonging. Borrowing from concepts of physical space, he describes four unique “spheres.”

The outer circle is the Public sphere. These are people you know by first name or recognize their faces. You may say “hi” or share a short conversation about the weather or that recent football game. This is the same sphere where you might feel affinity or belonging in a stadium cheering for a team. You may not know the people next to you, but you feel you belong.

Moving one in, we have the Social sphere. This is someone you share a known commonality or two. You might ask them for a small favor, but you probably haven’t spent time in their home.

Next, there’s the Personal sphere. This is the group you regularly share life with. You spend time together. You’ve been in their home. They know your feelings and needs.

Finally, there’s the Intimate sphere. These are the people with whom you share your “deepest secrets, desires, needs, and struggles.” This is a spouse or a best friend. Most people will only have 2-3 of these relationships at a time. Some will only have a few their whole life. They are rare relationships that are difficult to maintain.

So when we look back at Facebook, here’s the takeaway: for most people, the more you share, the smaller the group of people you share it with. 

When people started out on the site, the point was to share a little with a lot of folks. You were able to see what that friend from high school looks like 10 years later or find out if that girl you sat next to in class is “in a relationship.”

Now, Facebook’s goal is to create a timeline of your life as it happens. Share your thoughts as updates. Post what music you’re listening to on Spotify. Share pictures of what you’re doing (along with a required location – though I think Facebook will drop that soon). It’s your life – in real time.

Depending on how people use the tools, Facebook has moved over time from a public space to either a social, personal, or – at times – intimate space.

As the site changes, users’ behavior will change in one of these three ways:

  • Some will use the site less and keep it as a place to ‘track’ people.
  • Some will narrow their friend lists and share with a smaller group.
  • Others will broadcast more information to more people.

What do you think? Does Facebook change us? Or do we change how we use the site?

How Facebook Camera changes the way we share our lives