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Author Topic: Lifetime access to up-to-date info -- is this the future of the textbook?  (Read 2871 times)

zridling

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Yun Xie interviews Vikram Savkar on digital, interactive science texts:

A_highres-xie.jpg

The main problem is that textbooks are not research-oriented, nor are they up-to-date. Most are already behind the times by the time you buy them.... Textbooks are also falling behind when it comes to technology, as any interactive content has to be provided via separate media. Thus, it was exciting to see the implementation of what's being claimed as the “first interactive textbook” called Principles of Biology.

...These textbooks are not free, but they are affordable. We think it’ll be possible to be affordable. The price will be around $49 per student, and it’s a lifetime access. A person will always have access to the book. Our editorial team will also keep the textbook current. Twenty years from now, you can still read it and get updated on the world of biology. It’s a living edition, not something stagnant.


http://arstechnica.c...l-and-accessible.ars

Josh

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As a college student, I love the idea! I am sick of paying for books which quickly grow out of date, or paying 200 dollars for the latest edition of a book when nothing really has changed from the first edition.

I am trying a little experiment with my next 2 classes to see if I can make it through them WITHOUT purchasing the textbooks, relying solely on online information and journals.

That said, I would gladly buy books, or services as they were, in this fashion. This is a great idea!

steeladept

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Josh, I hope that your experiment works out - in my undergrad studies I was able to get away without buying books for most of my classes for the last 2 years of college.  The only time I needed to buy them was for classes where I needed to do work out of the books (such as math books, though I finished my math classes by that time).

As for the book idea, I think it is great, but I don't see how they can keep it that cheap and keep it constantly updated, and keep it with unlimited access to the original purchaser.  IF they can keep a steady flow of customers, I can see two of those - perhaps constantly updated with permanent access, for example, but then I would think the price would have to be very high.   Alternatively, I can see them keeping the price low, but using a subscription type of service - $20/year for access, $50/5 year access, etc.   Personally I like the idea of $50/5 year access - people could still sell "the book" if desired (I can imagine a few classes that are considered worthless that I would have transferred my account if allowed).  It is a sustainable price given constant updates, without the lifetime license issues that tend to kill constantly updated projects be they software or, in this case, books.  Sure it is conceptually great for customers, but I have yet to find a lifetime license project that hasn't at some point changed the licensing to kill off the license option, stopped or significantly slowed update progress, or just killed the project outright.  The only notable exception (so far) is xyplorer, and I am not convinced it won't change - just that it hasn't yet.  I can only imagine this idea will suffer a similar fate if they try to accomplish everything claimed above.

40hz

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What I always worry about with constant updates is errors slipping past the final proof-edit cycle. It seems almost axiomatic that every correction made in a technical book introduces new errors.

Also to SteelAdept's earlier point, lifetime-free is not a workable business model. As we've seen demonstrated over and over. Either the company goes out of business, the product is allowed to stagnate, or the business is forced to reneg on its 'lifetime' promise. Like the old saying goes: speed, price, quality - pick any two.

This is something I get into with my clients and people I do business startup counseling with: Not every great idea is a good idea for a business. I often get told something is a "terrific idea" for something that addresses a "real need." Then they throw the dumbest justification in the world at me: Nobody else is doing this!

To which I reply: Maybe you'd better look into why nobody else is doing it before you go any further.

I know it's a real buzzkill. But about 90% of the time you identify something that's not being done, there's a very good reason (or reasons) why not. This isn't to say you should automatically rule it out. (Because that remaining 10% of previously unaddressed opportunity is what most million dollar commercial empires are founded on.) But you should at least do some 'diligence' and find out why.

I think Vikram might need to think the business side of his idea through a little more completely than it seems he has.

Of course I could be completely wrong about this. (I certainly was about Google and AOL - so it wouldn't be the first time. ;D )






DonL

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The only notable exception (so far) is xyplorer, and I am not convinced it won't change - just that it hasn't yet.  I can only imagine this idea will suffer a similar fate if they try to accomplish everything claimed above.
The big advantages of a lifetime license are: (1) Extremely satisfied users that will spread the word (viral marketing). (2) Less overhead (non-coding work) for the developer: Every 10th customer or so needs support in how to pay or how and where to enter the license key. Lifetime license customers are usually "set and forget" regarding these things.

So there are no plans at all to drop the XYplorer lifetime license. It works great! But it will get more expensive (because currently it is just too cheap for the value).

y2kusuma

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Re: Lifetime access to up-to-date info -- is this the future of the textbook?
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2012, 06:51:54 AM »
So there are no plans at all to drop the XYplorer lifetime license. It works great! But it will get more expensive (because currently it is just too cheap for the value).

Hi DonL,

So sad finally you drop the XYplorer lifetime license.
Why not just increase the price?

TaoPhoenix

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Re: Lifetime access to up-to-date info -- is this the future of the textbook?
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2012, 07:36:13 AM »
As a college student, I love the idea! I am sick of paying for books which quickly grow out of date, or paying 200 dollars for the latest edition of a book when nothing really has changed from the first edition.

I am trying a little experiment with my next 2 classes to see if I can make it through them WITHOUT purchasing the textbooks, relying solely on online information and journals.

That said, I would gladly buy books, or services as they were, in this fashion. This is a great idea!

Hi Josh,
Interesting idea to see if you can make it through without buying the textbook. Just a tip or two to be aware of:
- I have noticed the type and especially the mix of the content in a textbook is sometimes/often hard to completely duplicate in fragmented online form, because the higher level info seems to be behind journal paywalls.
- "You can't learn what you don't know is there" so let's say in biology they take three pages discussing the similarities of St. John's Wort to SSRI class anti-depressants, you'd be blindsided unless you knew to look for approximately equal content online. If you didn't even know "it was on the test" then you'd lose a few questions on a test.

TaoPhoenix

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Re: Lifetime access to up-to-date info -- is this the future of the textbook?
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2012, 07:48:39 AM »
The only notable exception (so far) is xyplorer, and I am not convinced it won't change - just that it hasn't yet.  I can only imagine this idea will suffer a similar fate if they try to accomplish everything claimed above.
The big advantages of a lifetime license are: (1) Extremely satisfied users that will spread the word (viral marketing). (2) Less overhead (non-coding work) for the developer: Every 10th customer or so needs support in how to pay or how and where to enter the license key. Lifetime license customers are usually "set and forget" regarding these things.

So there are no plans at all to drop the XYplorer lifetime license. It works great! But it will get more expensive (because currently it is just too cheap for the value).

I'm gonna get a bit fierce here and say there simply isn't a "lifetime license". It's supposed to mean "lifetime of our user", but far far more often than not it means "the life of our business division before either we change course or someone else buys us and changes it for us."

I'd prefer a fixed-year license, such as 7-12 years. Then the company has a chance to get some angel funding to ride them out and hope to come out the other side, rather than an eternal albatross that ends up being a long term loss.

Unfortunately for some customers like me, the cognitive dissonance of listening to marketing mentioning "Lifetime _____", but knowing it *will* eventually vanish, leads for an occasional sour thought about truth in advertising. After all, when someone closes up shop and says "so sorry, so long and thanks for all the fish", the customer with the "Lifetime ______" is left with the bitter feeling of "I told you so" but no one to satisfyingly tell it to.

TaoPhoenix

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Re: Lifetime access to up-to-date info -- is this the future of the textbook?
« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2012, 07:57:28 AM »
Like the old saying goes: speed, price, quality - pick any two.

This is something I get into with my clients and people I do business startup counseling with: Not every great idea is a good idea for a business. I often get told something is a "terrific idea" for something that addresses a "real need." Then they throw the dumbest justification in the world at me: Nobody else is doing this!

To which I reply: Maybe you'd better look into why nobody else is doing it before you go any further.

I know it's a real buzzkill. But about 90% of the time you identify something that's not being done, there's a very good reason (or reasons) why not. This isn't to say you should automatically rule it out. (Because that remaining 10% of previously unaddressed opportunity is what most million dollar commercial empires are founded on.) But you should at least do some 'diligence' and find out why.

Some good points, though I think maybe in the "Post Mayan Era" (      ;D      ) there's room for a couple of new spins on that. The big name web services seem to be doing all three, because it's not a manufacturing paradigm, it's a "sell user info" paradigm. Gmail is probably the best case of this, followed whether I like it or not, Facebook. (I know, "quality" is debatable but absolutely "everyone" is on it!)

But I also think Apple is the thundering exception to Things That Were Not Being Done. Except maybe some demos sitting at Xerox labs for the Mac, then later some early smartphone and tablets, Apple pulled a couple of world class design geniuses and discovered that "too much open pasture is scary, the animals LIKE nice little walls to keep them from walking into the ravine. Plus look at the pretty flowers on the walls!" They took three product categories - Mp3 music player, phone, and tablet, and did them like no one else was doing them.