Goodbye to heavy backpacks?: Hello, e-textbooks
E-textbooks may soon lessen a student's burden
"It's very challenging, because they all support different file formats,” Busnach said. "The whole issue of industry standards has not been fully defined yet."
Even if districts end up providing classroom sets of matching digital tablets, it's not clear which format they will choose. Another question is whether the big companies that publish hardcover K-12 textbooks will dominate the e-textbook world, or be outpaced by tech-savvy newcomers.
The Internet already abounds with online lessons geared for various subjects and ages, created by digital start-up companies such as Coursera and Khan Academy, and many of these lessons are free. Some could morph into textbook replacements, too, said education technology writer Audrey Watters.
Slavin said digital start-up companies unfettered by attachments to printing presses and tree harvesting could prove more adept than traditional publishing companies at making the almost-inevitable transition to e-textbooks. That could leave hardcover textbook publishers scrambling for a profit model — a scenario some have compared to the plight of print-based journalism. But Busnach doesn't think his company will be left behind.
"We are embracing the digital world as much as anyone," he said. "We see it as an opportunity not only for us as a company, but as a way for more people to learn in a lifelong way. We advocate for that. We believe in that."
Traditional publishing companies offer advantages new companies don't have, Busnach said: A ready-made system of content development aligned to grade standards and based on broad research over time, conducted by many experts.
"We're not naïve," he said. "We know there will be plenty of disruptors. The value we bring will continue to be valuable to our customers, and we will continue to be strong content providers in the future."
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