Textbook companies have long sought to breathe life into their books by using technology. First, they tried packaging CD-ROM’s full of multimedia extras with traditional textbooks. Students were less than enthusiastic, and most of the disks were never put into a computer. More recently, many textbooks companies started putting such bonus materials on Web sites. That hasn’t been a raving success either. “It’s tough to get students there, short of the instructor making some sort of requirement,” says Scott Criswell, product manager for online-distribution platforms at McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Recognizing the latest iPod craze, McGraw-Hill is trying a new tack. On Tuesday it announced a pilot project in which it puts bonus material for three textbooks on iTunesU, the educational section of Apple Computer’s popular music store. The pilot is taking place at the University of Wisconsin at Madison—it actually started during the summer semester—and officials say they will expand the program if it goes well.
So far, the results are surprisingly promising, says Mr. Criswell. “The students were more engaged with the content served up in this platform,” he says, even though it was the exact same multimedia material that had flopped on a supplementary Web site. He says he is not sure whether that happened because of the “wow factor” of using iTunes, or whether using the popular music store “fits the way students learn better.”
John Couch, vice president for education at Apple, says that textbooks companies have been reluctant to try selling textbooks through online downloads, but that they may be moving in that direction now. “In the music industry, they have now seen the successful business model for the distribution of music,” says Mr. Couch. “What you’re seeing is pilots at this stage,” he added.” I think they will be expanding.”
Mr. Criswell says that so far McGraw-Hill is not planning to put the full text of its books in a format that can be delivered on an iPod. “Just taking the textbook and putting it on there doesn’t really seem like the right use,” he says. “It didn’t seem that students would use the device as an e-reader.”—Jeffrey R. Young