Yet Another Bad Thing That Big Textbook Publishers Do
September 14, 2010
(We’re big fans of what the team at Flat World Knowledge is up to. Every success that a next-generation textbook publisher has—and lately, FWK has had a lot—validates the model for all of us. This is an example of them not doing the bad things the traditional publishers do.)
As we mentioned in our earlier post, Flat World Knowledge has released a new graphic novel textbook, Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed. There are some good (and not so good) points made by the commenters over at Inside Higher Ed.
The criticisms went along these lines:
- A comic book textbook is dumbing things down.
- Putting a textbook into story format has been done before.
- It doesn’t supply the wealth of pedagogical options that a traditional 900 lb. textbook can offer.
- The book isn’t modular, and the narrative flow means professors have to structure their courses around the book.
To which we respond…
- That’s just silly. If it helps students learn the covered material, shouldn’t that be what matters?
- True: it’s not unprecedented, and it’s still a great idea.
- True: it’s not for every subject and every student.
- True: it’s not for every professor, either.
The fact that it’s not for everyone doesn’t make Atlas Black less valuable; it makes it more valuable. Bravo to the author, Jeremy Short, for not writing another one-size-fits-all book. Whether it’s a graphic novel textbook or just a book with an honest-to-goodness point of view, it’s high time someone injected some variety into this industry.
Industry Consolidation = Milquetoast Textbooks
Before the industry consolidation began in the 90s, some fields were served by upwards of a dozen titles. Professors had lots of choices when selecting tiles. Nowadays it’s not unusual for one book to command 50% share.
That’s not because the market demanded it; professors weren’t screaming, “Help! Give me fewer choices!” No, it was industry economics that drove the consolidation in the number of publishers and number of titles. (We’ve heard some great off-the-record stories about how the big publishers have intentionally spent more money to raise the barriers to entry and squeeze out competition.)
The Textbook Problem: Professors Need More Choices, Students Need Less Expensive Books
So Atlas Black does help solve the Textbook Problem, but perhaps not in the way its author intended. Sure, a graphic novel textbook might be more interesting to read, but what’s more important is that it offers professors an option they didn’t have before, and, owing to FWK’s pricing model, affordably puts a pretty bad-ass book into students’ hands.
That’s our mission here at Eleven Learning: our business model is about offering more choices to professors. You’ll see that in the coming months.
Oh, and mark my words: you should expect to soon see a Clone Army of graphic novel textbooks from the big publishers.