A New Chapter for E-Books [subscription required]
Lavish electronic-book projects point toward the pinnacle of the medium.
Technology Review, November/December 2011, page 79.
This is exciting!
Next year, Nature Education will release a more comprehensive attempt to rethink the electronic book, a $49 textbook called Principles of Biology. It results from the vision of Vikram Savkar, senior vice president and publishing director of Nature Publishing Group, who was responsible for launching the company’s education arm in 2007.
Students don’t buy a copy of the book—they buy lifetime access. The plan is for the textbook to serve not only as a reference for the class but as a pointer to further knowledge. Instead of publishing revised editions, Savkar’s team will keep the book up to date.
Principles of Biology is written as a series of more than 200 self-contained modules; the publisher has suggested an order for the modules, but instructors who use the book in their classes can freely drop or shuffle them. Instructors can also choose settings that increase or decrease the difficulty of the material. Principles of Biology connects related modules, and with just a click, students can access journal articles, summaries of those articles, and online resources that weren’t produced by Nature.
To make this possible, Savkar’s team shied away from creating the sort of e-book familiar to users of the Kindle or iPad. Principles of Biology is fundamentally a website, built in part with a developing technology called HTML5 that’s designed for interactivity and can appear on any device with a Web browser. (Principles also uses Flash, so it can be read in browsers that don’t yet support HTML5.) Savkar says that tying the book to the Internet itself, rather than creating specific apps or versions for specific devices, is the only way to keep the development cost down over time while ensuring that students can access the book from anywhere.