The Inconvenient Truth About Textbooks

School-books I just went to the iTunes App Store, and in one impulsive click, downloaded Al Gore’s companion app to his book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.”

It’s an immersive learning environment that begs the question – $4.99 iPad app or $49 textbook? 

Watch this promo video and you decide if the eBook has made the traditional textbook a relic. If you need some more numbers to help you make the decision -a quick search on textbook costs turned up this data from a 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “The average estimated cost of books and supplies for a first-time, full-time student at a four-year public institution was $898, or 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees. At community colleges, the estimated cost of books and supplies was a whopping 72 percent of the cost of tuition and fees.” 

EBook or textbook – still trying to decide?  Don’t forget that future updates of the app could add more content or features – how about social networking?

Update: A hat tip to my friend Martin Edic at 24PageBooks who pointed out that Push Top Press (the folks who did the Gore’s book) plan to release a publishing platform for authors, publishers and artists to turn their books into interactive iPad or iPhone apps — no programming skills required. Imagine when students can make their own!

2 Replies to “The Inconvenient Truth About Textbooks”

  1. I think its important to differentiate between primary and secondary study devices.

    Primary devices are those used for the heavy lifting of academic study, e.g. reading multiple sources, writing long form pieces of academic work

    Secondary devices are those used for checking and quick review/reference where the user is not seeking to study for a long period but maybe look up information during a seminar.

    At Reference Tree, where we enable students to rent eTextbooks by chapter we initially focussed (rightly or wrongly) on supporting primary device working (hence Online ‘traditional form’ laptop/desktop) and are now developing out our mobile offerings.

    I contend that the primary device is most useful for serious academic study whereas Apps are more suited (in fact far more suited than traditional textbooks) to secondary study methods.

    I would be interested in seeing if anyone wants to do a mobile vs. laptop/desktop comparative study to understand the following:

    1. Do students prefer etextbooks with the visual cues of a traditional textbook?

    2. Are etextbooks more useful within primary or secondary devices (or even is there a distinction)?

    You can see what we do at

    feel free to send me a note

    Best wishes


  2. Amil,

    Thanks for your comment. I think your distinction between primary and secondary devices is an interesting one. It’s certainly true that the desktop – app continuum is rapidly evolving. It’s always interesting to see how people actually choose to use a technology (despite the designer’s intension.) I remember how I used to call my old telephone answering machine to leave myself reminders!

Leave a Reply to Amil Tolia Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: