Rewrite your textbook

The New York Times has a story on Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally.

Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.

I’ve had many a textbook that I modified for my own instructional purposes, but I didn’t do it by rewriting an author’s copyrighted material. I’ve also written a few books that I fantasize are used as textbooks, so I’m wondering how this development is being presented to authors. What control do authors have over changes?

DynamicBooks are presenting themselves inexpensive, interactive, and innovative. Right now they have about 100 of Macmillan’s books that fall into this program. (This deal fairly screams iPad to me.)

Pearson, which is the parent company of Peachpit and New Riders, was quoted in the NYT article.

“There is a flow to books, and there’s voice to them,” said Don Kilburn, chief executive of Pearson Learning Solutions, which does allow instructors to change chapter orders and insert material from other sources. Mr. Kilburn said he had not been briefed on Macmillan’s plans.

While this idea may have the potential to bring improvements to education, I want to know a whole lot more about the details before I endorse it. Right now, the details are hard to find. It could be a nightmare.

Jeffrey Zeldman, who wrote a book recommended for use it just about every web design course in the world, is leading a panel at SXSWi on “New Publishing and Web Content” next month. I don’t think they had this development in mind when the panel was suggested months ago, but I hope editable digital textbooks will be among the things discussed during the session.

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