Dynamic Textbooks

New York Times article: “Macmillan … is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.” That includes rewriting and deleting individual paragraphs.The effort is hosted at DynamicBooks.

This is yet another step in what Nicholas Carr has called “the Great Unbundling“, freeing the smaller bits of content embedded in print objects like newspapers and books to live their own independent digital lives.

It raises all kinds of interesting questions, some of which are addressed in the NYT article:

  • who controls the changes? (in Macmillan’s case, they claim to not control it, but also that they will “rely on students, parents and other instructors to help monitor changes” and remove inappropriate changes. And how do they decide exactly who qualifies as an instructor?)
  • how does this affect style? (from the article: “there’s a flow to books, and there’s voice to them”)
  • what about divergent points of view? (from the article: “if an instructor decided to rewrite paragraphs about the origins of the universe from a religious rather than an evolutionary perspective, <an astronomy author> said, “I would absolutely, positively be livid.””)

Macmillan’s choice to really put this out in the open is bold: i’m not sure i’d go that far. But i have no doubt that blurring the line of who owns the content is the direction of the future.