This year is widely seen as a breakthrough year for e-books in general, and a precursor of a similar development in the education community. The growing use of e-textbooks at the university level is now reaching down into the K-12 schools in terms of e-textbook availability, related online resources, and importantly, curriculum integration.
The K-12 market is fundamentally different from either the general public e-book or university e-textbook markets. In the latter case, e-books and their related licenses are typically sold individually for one user at a time. In the K-12 market place, however, the sale of multiple copies of e-textbooks is the norm, and those copies must be used by sequential classes of students from one school year to the next. The K-12 schools must also be able to deal with multiple devices and with incremental purchases as class sizes vary from year to year.
At this stage in the development of the K-12 e-textbook market, there is little standardization among publishers as to sales and licensing terms. In recent discussions with one publisher, for example, we found one division offering to sell e-textbooks for either one- or six-year terms, with no interim updates for the six-year version. Another division was offering one-, three-, and five year licenses with ongoing updates as a separate line item. The diversity of e-textbook licensing terms - often with restrictive policies as to e-textbook reuse - are creating increasingly complex administrative control problems for K-12 schools.
The FCC's recent 6th Report and Order (FCC 10-175)² established a $10 million pilot program, designated "E-Rate Deployed Ubiquitously 2011" (or "EDU2011") to support off-campus use of student wireless Internet access services, including e-books. While EDU2011 is a limited, one-year, $10 million, trial program, it provides the first significant federal funding of 1-to-1 learning initiatives for primary and secondary educational programs. As such, EDU2011 is expected to be a high-profile program.
The K-12 e Bookroom Initiative ("e-BI") has been created to leverage the attention generated by EDU2011 to open meaningful dialogues with the textbook publishers with the aim of adopting standardized, school-friendly, licensing policies for K-12 e textbooks. Success in this effort could be one of the more tangible achievements of the FCC's pilot program.
E-books and E-bookrooms:
K-12 schools have long dealt with the logistical problems of purchasing, storing, and distributing hardcover textbooks. At the center of these efforts are often sprawling bookrooms whose managers, together with the school business officials, are continually addressing such issues as:
- Textbook inventory management
- Collection and dissemination of student books
- Storage requirements for unused books or books held over the summer months
- Accounting for lost or damaged books
- Reviewing student requests for second sets
- Ordering, invoicing, tracking, and receiving of new books
- Disposal of unneeded and/or obsolete books
The physical aspects of managing a bookroom are virtually eliminated when dealing with e-textbooks. Many of the administrative tasks can be handled electronically, and storage requirements can be reduced from the size of a full room to as little as a single thumb drive.
The management of e-textbooks, however, is a more complex process. Books are no longer distinct physical items to be purchased and owned. E-textbooks are electronic resources, often with restricted availability only online. Effective administration of an e textbook program requires a specially designed database system - or "e-bookroom."
The development of such an e-bookroom is currently complicated by the lack of standardization among e-textbook publishers regarding:
- Single vs. multi-user or multi-year licenses and pricing policies
- Formats supported
- Multiple device policies
- PIN or access code systems, including reassignment policies
- Content updates
- Access to additional Web resources
- Teacher training and curriculum resources
One of the key objectives of e-BI is to promote the adoption of school-friendly licensing terms among e-textbook publishers. Subject to further discussion between e-BI participants, such terms might address such factors as:
- Term of purchase
- Standard license periods - e.g., 1, 2, 3, 5 years or longer
- Alignment of license terms with school years, regardless of actual date of purchase - e.g., July - June (or perhaps July-Sept. to include summer remedial studies)
- Ability to align the terms of subsequent purchases with initial term
- Volume discounts
- Multi-year discounts
- Free or subscription-based pricing of additional online resources
- Password/access control
- School reset capability
- Multi-device flexibility
- Teacher resources
- Special teacher additions
- Availability of professional development material and/or training
- Standard or specially-designated ISBNs
K-12 e-Bookroom Initiative and the EDU2011 Program:
Textbook Central believes that a concerted effort by participants in the FCC's EDU2011 pilot - which is expected to be a high-profile program - would provide much needed leverage for such standardization. Additionally, given the FCC's apparent interest in e books, Textbook Central believes that the incorporation of an e-book distribution component in EDU2011 program plans - particularly a commitment to work with other pilot participants in the K-12 e Bookroom Initiative - would improve those participants' chances for success.
To support the K-12 e-Bookroom Initiative, and as a part of its own e-bookroom development efforts, Textbook Central is prepared to do the following:
- Independently promote the need for, and the objectives of a cooperative K-12 e-book initiative to the FCC. By extension, this effort would support the EDU2011 applications of participating applicants.
- In consultation with participants in the K-12 e-Bookroom Initiative, Textbook Central will initiate and coordinate discussions with textbook publishers and mobile device providers to develop standards specifically geared to K-12 requirements.
- As a part of these coordination efforts, Textbook Central will endeavor to negotiate discounts on e-books and devices, not otherwise covered by the EDU2011 program funding (limited to wireless Internet access). To the extent that such suppliers are willing to contribute content or equipment to pilot participants, the use of the K-12 e-Bookroom Initiative as an intermediary may alleviate some of the concerns over the new E-rate gift rules.
- In addition to keeping participants up-to-date, Textbook Central will summarize the results of the group's e-book initiatives for interim and/or final pilot program reports to the FCC as required.
- Subject to EDU2011 participant agreement, Textbook Central may seek non-pilot program members - including members of the National Association of State Textbook Administrators ("NASTS") - to provide additional leverage for this e-book initiative.
¹ The e-BI program was initiated by E-Rate Central , whose parent company, CentralEd , runs a $3 million per year centralized textbook distribution operation for public and private schools in Nassau County, NY (under the name "Textbook Central"). Textbook Central is currently developing its own "e-bookroom" database system in order to efficiently and effectively manage the administrative aspects of its e-textbook program.