As much people still love their textbooks, there are inherent problems. They’re expensive. They’re heavy. And oftentimes, they’re woefully out-of-date. The latter is particularly true when it comes to science books — by the time a textbook hits store shelves (and appears in syllabi), new research outdates the text. Such is the changing nature of science. And such is the fixed nature of the printed textbook.

Nature Education, the educational wing of the Nature Publishing Group which also runs Scitable, one of the largest science publishers in the world – is hoping to resolve this with the release its first ever science textbook.

It’s called the Principles of Biology, and for a $49 lifetime access, students receive a constantly-updated biology textbook, for less cost.

The textbook is a result of a partnership between California State University and the Nature Publishing Group, who’ll be working together to create what they’re calling a “born digital” textbook that will be used at CSU campuses beginning in the Fall of 2011.

As a digital product, Principles of Biology will be accessible to students and instructors via the Web — both on desktops and on mobile devices. Those who buy the license will also be able to print a color copy of the textbook.

The textbook includes more than 175 interactive lessons, as well as continual assessments to help students master various fundamental concepts in biology. The book will draw on the expertise as well as on the archives of the journal Nature.

The Nature Publishing Group says that it will offer more titles in the future geared to life and physical sciences. These books will also be developed in conjunction with the faculty at CSU.

Gerry Hanley, Senior Director for Academic Technology Services at the CSU, Office of the Chancellor, said in a statement that this book is a step towards transforming the traditional relationship between universities and textbook publishers” Like Inkling books, this is entirely digital, not just a transfer of a print version to an e-book. But this sort of academic and publisher partnership is important to note — not just because it marks a way for students to receive up-to-date content, but because they can receive that content at a discount.

The publishing industry at large is going through a tremendous change due to the increasing popularity of e-books. And the textbook industry, long the target of complaints from students resentful at shelling out hundreds of dollars for books they’ll only use for a few weeks, is ripe for disruption.

By offering students the ability to access the materials online, at a deeply discounted rate and with the knowledge that this material is continually updated, the Nature Publishing Group might point the way for other publishers to follow. It’s not just about providing students with the content they need, it’s about finding a model for digital content that makes sense.

  • Very nice initiative. Theres a long time I finished school and college, and in that time I already felt like the books were really outdated. 

    I wonder how today studens would feel about printed books with so many ways to get updated information and with Internet access so widespread.

  • Matt

    Although it is stated that, “this is entirely digital, not just a transfer of a print version to an e-book,” this article fails to actually address what makes something ‘interactive’, and ‘entirely digital;’ beyond being cheaper than traditional textbooks and having an impact on the text book industry. Pardon my language but ‘no sh*t’. This ‘tremendous change’ has been happening for the last three years since the advent of the Kindle, and longer since text books came with CDs or comanion websites that were both ‘digital’ and ‘interactive’. This is nothing new. I suggest that you spend your time actually focusing on what is truly revolutionary rather than unsubstantiated rhetorical praises to a specific product, with no mention of other similar (arguably better) products, nor added editorial or journalistic value to the conversation. Sure you added some facts (probably readily available in the publisher’s press release), and some arbitrary statements about the state of the publishing industry; but I leave this ‘article’ with more questions than answers, like: “what’s so good about this book/software?”, “how is this different from the rest of the industry?”, and “how much did Nature Publishing Group pay Audrey Watters?”— None of which were answered. I get a feeling of disatisfaction, and await the day (probably some two years from now) when we get an article about how great this ‘new’ iPad thing is…

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor