Professor starts eText company to electrify textbook field

Professors are gravitating toward digital textbooks.

M. Ryan Haley, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh economics professor, has started a company he hopes will undercut the academic textbook publishing industry and help college students save a lot of money.

CoreTxt Plus Inc. is distributing a free digital statistics textbook to UW-Oshkosh students.

“We bypassed the middleman, which is the people making all the money off our students,” Haley said. “They’re putting new editions out every few years now, and it’s absurd. Statistics hasn’t changed in 150 years.”

Haley estimates the eText has saved UW-Oshkosh students taking the economics and business statistics class $100,000 to $150,000 during the four semesters it has been used.

The textbook was written by Haley and three other professors under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It includes study questions written by business professors across the campus who will be teaching the students in future semesters.

The book was reviewed by academics at other schools, the same way publishing houses review texts, Haley said.

Professors who use the book can customize about 15 percent of it to their teaching style and needs.

Students who are more comfortable with a paper textbook can go to the university’s copy center and have one made for about $15, he said.

“I know I’m very unpopular with publishing houses, but I choose to side with students on this one,” Haley said.

CoreTxt has copyrighted the content of the book with help from WiSys Technology Foundation Inc., the tech transfer agent for the UW System, said Maliyakal E. John, WiSys managing director.

“The opportunity we see is that we can turn around these types of expert books in a shorter time frame, and the students are tremendously served,” John said.

CoreTxt is looking to sell the book at other schools at a very low cost and to create digital textbooks for other large-enrollment, introductory-level classes, Haley said.

Big academic publishing houses have been worrying for more than a decade about how electronic texts might disrupt their business models, said Teresa Esser, managing director of the Silicon Pastures angel investing group. Esser was previously an acquisitions editor for Kluwer Academic Publishers, now Springer-Verlag.

Big publishers’ business models involve persuading academics to write books, then selling those books back to schools, Esser said.

A start-up company in the industry must have a good business plan and the ability to execute it while competing with big publishers that have enormous marketing muscle as well as academics who try to distribute free books they’ve written themselves, Esser said.

If a recent survey is any indication, college students are anticipating a sudden shift away from traditional textbooks, toward digital books — whether they’re free or proprietary.

Six in 10 college students – and seven in 10 high school seniors – believe tablets will replace traditional textbooks within five years, according to findings from the Pearson Foundation’s Second Annual Survey on Students and Tablets, which was made public March 14.

Only 7 percent of college students surveyed in 2011 owned a computer tablet. In 2012, that number has spiked to 25 percent, and students now see their sleek new tablets as the inevitable replacement for their bulky, pricey textbooks.

The shift in tablet use was reflected in how college students are using the technology. Six in 10 students now use their tablet to read for fun and for educational purposes. Less than half of student respondents used tablets for those reasons in Pearson’s 2011 survey.

Pearson’s survey findings could predict a further boom in the number of tablets on campuses in 2013 and beyond: more than one-third of respondents said they intended to buy a tablet in the next six months.

(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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