Tomorrow’s Textbooks – Coming Sooner

Simon has mentioned the challenges of writing for the screen, and the prospects for tomorrow’s texts.

An announcement from Macmillan describes an ambitious model for moving popular student texts to a web platform with the ability to have dynamic linking and enriched content. Textbooks will no longer be flat. The new service is called Dynamicbooks.

So far, the texts chosen appear to be in the hard sciences, where presumably knowledge is more stable than it is in the human sciences, and is universal. No sign of anything similar on the legal front, where markets are much more fragmented and legal change prompts obsolescence.

These new dynamic books should be cheaper than print. A NYT piece uses as an example Schacter’s book “Psychology”, which lists for $134.29, and is available for $119.20 on discounted websites; the DynamicBooks version of the text will sell for just $48.76.

The Times comments:

Instructors who have tested the DynamicBooks software say they like the idea of being able to fine-tune a textbook. “There’s almost always some piece here or some piece there that a faculty person would have rather done differently,” said Todd Ruskell, senior lecturer in physics at the Colorado School of Mines.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is predicting format wars. McGraw-Hill’s competitive product even has grading software built in. Follett Higher Education Group’s CafeScribe, and Flat World Knowledge are also competing for the space. Wiley also has robust offerings, as does Coursesmart.

The Daily Finance stresses the potential for wiki-like collaboration and predicts new forms of multiple author books and opportunities for engagement with students and readers.


  1. Wouldn’t law textbooks be a perfect fit for DynamicBooks, because of frequent change, not in spite of it?

  2. I know that a couple of Canadian publishers have been mooting “dynamic” casebooks for a number of years now. One of the less wonderful tasks in law teaching is the business of updating or creating casebooks to suit the needs of a particular course. (Small market in Canada: less commercial choice.) Few, if any, law teachers here are making full use of the dynamic possibilities offered by computers and the internet yet.

  3. I agree with Lawrence. Rapidly evolving topics seem perfect for Dynamicbooks. The traditional textbooks are out-of-date by the time they get published.

    I’m also wondering if digital textbooks might be part of the answer to the widening economic chasm for the computer illiterate. Issue children laptops or other digital devices with the textbooks pre-loaded. The textbook savings can pay for the computers.

  4. Whether a text is out-of-date immediately or only after a time depends on what the text is for or what it tries to do. There is, in my opinion, a huge need for texts that explain the law and offer a structure for analysis and, while these have to accommodate new cases as they appear, they will not go out-of-date as early as some people may fear.