What do students look for in used textbooks? Well, it’s often more than just paying less money–as important as that is.
Further to my blog about Kindle DX and textbooks, Clive Thompson notes the work of Microsoft researcher Cathy Marshall on this topic. She “found that university students carefully study used textbooks before buying them.” Are they hoping to learn about biology while drinking their triple-shot latte without having to pay for the book? No.
They are looking for used textbooks with the best notes–the most helpful underlining with the most incisive lecture highlights and the smartest comments in the margins. Great used textbooks have their own “virtual” Cliffs Notes embedded in every page. So students not only save money–they save time and effort.
This presents a wonderful example of the difference between information and interpretation. That is a great fact to know. It’s fascinating and insightful and important. But what does it mean?
- Does it mean publishers should start adding yellow highlighting to critical passages in their texts?
- Does it mean print textbooks won’t die because a cold, heartless ebook can’t compete with great notes from a living, breathing human being?
- Does it mean, as Clive Thompson suggests, that publishers need to develop technology to allow communities of readers to mark up and highlight the digital text of a
Thompson doesn’t do much to allay the fears publishers have that digital books will be Napsterized so print goes the way of CDs or (more to the point) newspapers. But he is right that if there are better ways to do books and people want that, a way will be found to provide it. Yet at what consequence?
Will we be better off without music CDs? Musical purists would argue that we lost more in the switch from vinyl to digital than we did from CD to direct download. Will we be better off without newspapers and their bands of investigative reporters? I think more is being lost to society in that regard. Will digital books cause the the publishing enterprise to shrink in the same way, and will culture be better off for it? Maybe Cathy Marshall could start researching that!