Magazine article Information Today

High Stakes in the Etextbook Market

Magazine article Information Today

High Stakes in the Etextbook Market

Article excerpt

There is a buzz of activity in the digital higher education textbook market. The existence of so many tools, platforms, features, and licensing options can be confusing for students, faculty, libraries, and the publishers. (See NewsWatch, November 2011 IT.)

And as higher education costs have skyrocketed, a number of companies are working to make textbooks more affordable and, in some cases, free. The stakes are high, as evidenced by announcements of some recent partnerships and several interesting lawsuits.

Etextbook Company Kno Sues Cengage

Earlier this year, digital textbooks seller Kno, Inc. filed suit against the publishing giant Cengage Learning, Inc. for breach of license agreement; Kno had an agreement to distribute Cengage titles. The trouble began when Cengage objected to features that Kno added to the digital textbooks, specifically the Journal feature, which "allows the user to create a digital notebook by recording notes and identifying for later reference what she considers to be important images and portions of texts she has purchased."

Cengage claimed this infringed its copyright by creating a derivative work and gave Kno 30 days to correct it. Kno was reportedly working on a solution when Cengage terminated the agreement. According to the filing, Cengage textbooks make up about one-quarter of Kno's sales, so if Kno cannot offer Cengage textbooks, it "will suffer monetary and irreparable harm."

Several industry commentators pointed out that the Journal feature seems to be a classic fair use of excerpts and that maybe other motives are involved. Perhaps one of the most insightful comments came from Kevin Smith, scholarly communications officer at Duke University, who advises on copyright and licensing issues:

My biggest concern about the dispute described in this complaint is the possibility that it shows us another publisher trying to disable they [sic] very possibilities that make ebooks attractive to consumers because they do not understand how those features work and feel threatened by them. E-texts specifically offer tremendous new potential for innovative learning, and ways to study a subject that work for a variety of different learning styles. But these are possibilities only if the publishers get over their intense fear of the digital environment and their express desire to introduce "inconveniences" so that their digital products mirror the limitations of the print world.

Three Publishers Sue Open Textbook Startup

The major textbook publishers are keeping an eye on some of the new free options for texts from a rash of startup companies. …

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