14 September 2010

Textbook identity

One of my colleagues got an email from a student peeved that we had switched our introductory biology textbook. The student was annoyed by the cost, and that there were no used copies because it was a new text.

The student had apparently compared the new book and the old, claiming that there were only minor changes in content at most. Putting aside how much the student could actually determine about the content of two books weighing in at close to 1,000 pages in the first two weeks of class, what interested me was that the student thought only about the physical object.

One of the things that is most impressive about contemporary textbooks, however, is the wealth and richness of their online resources. I doubt students consider those at all. (A few years ago, before textbook publishers set up websites, texts would often come bundled with CDs. I heard that when the students sold the books back, the CDs would often still be in the little envelopes bound into the books, untouched, with many students completely unaware it had been there.)

Getting an online resource is like getting an extended service warranty: it’s not something that you can see or hold in your hand when you walk up to the counter. I wonder if there are psychological studies of how people value such purchases.

Textbook publishers are facing a lot of problems. I’ve said before that textbooks probably can’t survive in their current form, and in some ways, the online resources the publishers are offering indicate that the publishers are moving in the right direction.

But emails like the one my colleague received show that the psychological inertia is huge. If there is anything made of atoms, it seems students will focus on that one thing and think about nothing else they might be getting along with those atoms pulled from trees.

Related posts

Antiquated, heavy, expensive
Why textbooks have a bad rep
The textbook conundrum

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