California State University opts for $49 e-book over expensive biology textbook

Nature Publishing Group and California State University (CSU) on Tuesday announced a three-year partnership that will eliminate paper textbooks from certain classes, and replace them with interactive e-books instead.

Principles of Biology e-textbook

College textbooks are some of the most expensive pieces of disposable literature around. A book that a student uses for approximately four and a half months can cost as much as $200, and every semester, students spend upwards of $1000 just on the textbooks for their classes.

According to a 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office of California, the average cost of a college textbook was rising 6% a year, or double the national rate of inflation. This naturally drew the attention of state legislators in nearly 36 states as well as consumer activist groups. The reasons for the extremely high cost and rapid inflation were unclear.

As a result, Congress passed a law in 2008 (Public Law No: 110-315) that required textbook publishers to unbundle supplementary content (audio, dvd, software) from textbooks, and disclose the textbook pricing to school faculty, as well as describe what changes took place from edition to edition, so the faculty could effectively decide if the university bookstore had to buy a whole new series of books to sell to students each year.

The law forces a situation that made the use of e-textbooks the perfect solution. Technically they are 100% interactive content so no unbundling is necessary, and there's no material cost for their annual revision.

Principles of Biology e-textbook

The first e-textbook in the program will be "Principles of Biology" and will be used in the Introductory Biology class at CSU Los Angeles, Northridge, and Chico campuses beginning in September 2011. Each school will be testing a different licensing and access model. It will only cost $49 per student, and will include 175 interactive lessons.

"Our partnership with NPG is intended not just to develop a new kind of textbook, but to transform the traditional relationship between universities and textbook publishers," said Gerry Hanley, Senior Director for Academic Technology Services at CSU's Office of the Chancellor. "The CSU and NPG have interacted from the outset, not as producer and consumer, but as partners jointly designing a publishing model that satisfies the long-term needs of both kinds of organizations. The resulting set of product features, pricing, rights and permissions, and distribution options is an ideal foundation for academic institutions moving forward and a considerable advance over traditional models."

"Principles of Biology" will be released to the general public on September 1, 2011.

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