Nonprofit At Work On Free Digital Science Textbook

Billed as the first interactive, all-digital science textbook, Life on Earth will teach students about the birds, bees, flowers and trees — and do so for free.

Wired reports the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is pouring up to $10 million into the creation of a 59-chapter biology textbook and will release it to the public for free, chapter by chapter. While texts are commonly transferred to digital versions, this is apparently the first e-text of its kind, incorporating interactive video and games into the fold.

The director of the production expects backlash from the free model, which won’t be so great for the already struggling publishing industry. He tells Wired:

If we give away our stuff and they’re trying to sell it, that’s a serious threat. That will be disconcerting to them, but eventually these publishers will be trying to produce what we’re producing.”

What do you think an e-textbook needs to offer in order to make hardbound books obsolete?

First All-Digital Science Textbook Will Be Free [Wired]


Edit Your Comment

  1. PLATTWORX says:

    Gotta love when the Consumerist staff publishes “print is dead” stories when their parent company, Consumers Union, depends on PRINT revenues from Consumer Reports Magazine to stay afloat. That’s a pretty large knife in the back.. isn’t it?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Sick of these Consumerist conspiracies.

      It’s well known that publishing is suffering and dwindling, and that companies can no longer rely solely on that revenue.

      Let me guess, you make your own non-story at home?

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      So you think they should just not say anything pertaining to reality then. It’s a fact, publishers that rely heavily on just print are hurting and hurting badly. Would you rather they just report I mean skew reality to benefit themselves and sell lies?

      • PLATTWORX says:

        No, I don’t. However, a division of a company that relies heavily on print revenue does NOT need to title a whole section of stores “PRINT IS DEAD”. It’s foolish and would be similar to a division of Walmart putting our press releases saying “BRICK AND MORTAR RETAILING IS DEAD” because more people are shopping and Nothing like biting the hand that feeds you.

        “FROM PRINT TO ONLINE” would be a much nicer way of saying the same thing.

        The fact that tens of thousands of local people are employed by local newspapers still who are the only unbiased professional source of local news and information in most communities seems to escape those who like to dance on the grave of print.

        Truth is most advertisers in print do NOT want to run ads on the newspaper web sites and most subscribers feel they should not have to pay for news if they can’t hold it in their hands. Wonder how reporters are expected to pay their mortgage or residents expect to learn local news when their stop supporting the paper and it shuts down.

    • DanRydell says:

      It’s even funnier because Consumerist failed as a revenue-generating for-profit site.

    • parliboy says:

      Consumer Reports is well aware of the poor health of print. Why else do you think they have a subscription-based iPhone app?

      No knives here.

  2. humphrmi says:

    “What do you think an e-textbook needs to offer in order to make hardbound books obsolete?”

    Instructor acceptance.

    • DanRydell says:

      Pretty much. For that they of course need credibility, but they also need to produce a steady supply of test questions so professors don’t have to write their own.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Also they need to be more intuitive. There’s nothing I hate more than sitting down at a computer to read a 50 page chapter with watermarks, poor photocopying, and a clunky interface.

      An interactive video-enabled book like this will revolutionize ebooks I think. And the fact that its NEW and up to date (and since its digital only can stay that way) will be awesome.

  3. ARP says:

    I approve nearly anything to take some power from the Texas Board of Education re: textbooks.

  4. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    It would be a breathe of fresh air to have the choice between printed textbooks and interactive textbooks. Think of it this way…would you rather hear Martin Luther King’s speech with all the inflections and emphasis in his voice so you can really feel his message, or would you rather read it in a book.

  5. RandomHookup says:

    Cue a response by a Creation Science non-profit, followed soon after by the Flying Spaghetti Monster version of creation + science.

  6. deadskin says:

    The free model for scientific school books will stop larger “purchasers” like Texas school districts from dictating what scientific subject matters can be breached in school texts. While the e-distribution will still allow them to ignorantly ignore any topic they wish while others have access to up to date science.

  7. houstonspace says:

    Well, here’s a solution that might actually work against all the creationists at the Texas Board of Education – Local schools may now be able to get free text books. It’s hard to compete with free. I hope this is just the beginning.

    • ARP says:

      Until the Creationists offer their own free version… and they usually have more money, so they could even pay schools to use their books.

  8. goldgecko4 says:

    This is nifty for the auto-didact in all of us. Unless it’s a kid’s science book. Even then, it might still help, I still confuse my genus and species sometimes.

  9. Melbelle says:

    As a writer at a publishing company, this scares me. A lot. As someone who wants to see children receive the best education possible, this is awesome. So conflicted.

    • craptastico says:

      it’s like anything else in the world that happens in the name of progress. some jobs will be lost.

  10. darcmosch says:

    I agree as well. This gentleman might have a scientifically based textbook, but there need to be some standards set and with Texas still a giant state, it might not matter if these e-books are free or not because they can still pay to get the creationism to get put in or get the guy no one’s heard about out of the textbook because his fame is at too low of a level to be taught.

    roll 212!

  11. r586 says:

    they won’t be offering any incentives to the people who make the decisions on what to buy so it won’t happen, after all it’s just tax money

  12. minjche says:

    I see a step in the right direction towards free and easily available textbooks. College textbooks are an absolute racket.

    Grain of salt: I don’t want to devalue the knowledge of textbook authors and the work they put in to produce their textbooks, but at the same time I consider their knowledge completely useless if they’re not sharing it.

    Take as a case study the comparison of a conventional encyclopedia and wikipedia. IMO, the knowledge captured by wikipedia, run completely by donations, is leaps and bounds more valuable than the knowledge captured by a conventional (and extremely costly) encyclopedia.

    When it comes to information, free and open is always better IMO.

    I have had a few professors (Penn State, Chemical Engineering) who make their own textbooks for our classes, and they’re sold to students at the price of the photocopies and binding (usually under $15). I like this model because it takes the focus off of profiting from knowledge (ignoring tuition, of course).

    • buzz86us says:

      I am hoping that college professors get together and just write standardized books for specific classes to be offered for anyone taking the course in digital for free or hard-copy for the price of publishing. These money-hungry text-book corporations really need to be put in their place because for the price of my books in college I could have bought my tablet pc 10x over.

  13. cmdr.sass says:

    I hope the textbook is audited and proofread by real scientists and not some English major.

  14. goodfellow_puck says:

    “What do you think an e-textbook needs to offer in order to make hardbound books obsolete?”

    Computers or e-readers for every student/class. Good luck with that.

    • gparlett says:

      +1. This would work today for college textbooks, because every incoming freshman has a laptop, an iphone, and probably a kindle. And hey, if they dont’ have a kindle they could buy one for the cost of the average Biology textbook. Making it work in elementary school will be nearly impossible. How many computer labs are there in your kid’s school? Are teachers really going to add ‘iPad’ to the back to school list for parents of third-graders? Are schools going to purchases a Kindle for every student and then just trust that they’ll come back in usable shape at the end of the year? … and yes, I know, all of your kid’s friends have iphones so this isn’t an issue, but the really poor districts who would actually be helped by this will get left out again.

      • minjche says:

        Every incoming freshman has a kindle?

        I’m in my 5th year at Penn State and I have never seen a single kindle in the wild at school.

        Laptop, yeah I’d say a vast majority are entering school with one.

        iPhone is iffy. Definitely not all but a significant amount.

        • HeroOfHyla says:

          I’ve never seen a kindle at my university, but I’ve definitely seen a lot of iPads, and I got a free Macbook Pro as part of a scholarship. Apparently, Apple is working with schools a lot to try and get my generation hooked on Apple products.

  15. HeroOfHyla says:

    My computer science professor writes his own textbooks and provides them as free PDFs to the class. Then we do online homework submission through coding bat and webcat, which are both free. It’s amaaazing. Especially compared to my math class, where, if you buy the textbook preowned, you have to pay separately for access to the website to do your homework. I also had to pay extra for access to online workbooks for my French class.

  16. dswanson says:

    It’s a great idea. Textbook publishers have been bilking students and schools out of money for decades. In college I was told I had to purchase the Fifth Edition of a textbook, that the Fourth was “out of date”. I went ahead and purchased a used Fourth edition anyway, for about 20% of the cost of the Fifth (only available brand new that semester) and compared it to the Fifth. The only difference: minor changes to ONE chapter. And the next fall, when people tried to sell their $140 Fifth editions, they were no longer being bought back–because there was now a SIXTH edition.
    While this might hurt the publishing industry, it will force them to update their business model which is a good thing. Ultimately, the CONSUMER/Student benefits with lower cost of higher education. Less debt, more disposable income to spend elsewhere in the economy which creates growth and jobs elsewhere.