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eTextbook Market Still Very Much in Flux

iStock 000014801460XSmallThe other day, veteran technology journalist Jason Perlow wrote a compelling post on ZDNet about the text book of the future and what the ideal hardware might look like.

While I realize that Perlow makes clear he was concentrating on the hardware because that's his strength, it raises key questions about what matters when it comes to eTextbooks. Is it the hardware, the software, the content or the perfect combination of all three?

Todd Sirrine, Client Partner at Ness, who specializes in the education market sees it as more than a pure content problem. He thinks it comes down to the software that will run these devices.

"The game changer which no one is talking about yet because portions of the premise will be extremely unpopular initially with academia  - has to do with interaction levels, feedback loops, and the role of the teacher, Sirrine said. He added," It will be the software behind the scenes that leverage decision-science logic and performance analytics that track usage, velocity, mastery, learning decay, decision patterns, and learning profile that make a digital device the far more powerful and optimal tool."

But some believe it's all about content, whether we are talking text books or the more general eBook reader market.

Last year about this time, I was a judge in the first Deloitte National MBA competition where teams from the country's best and brightest MBA programs competed to figure out how to come to come up with the most clever eReader technology business idea.

You can get the details here, but the gist of it was they had to come up with a business idea from one of four main categories: raw materials, devices, software/services/publishers or content. As I wrote, it all came down to one thing:

"Ken Landis, Principal in Deloitte's IT Strategy practice, gave a little speech about the presentations and he bluntly told the students they all failed. Why? Because folks it's about the content, and his view all of the teams failed to recognize that."

But Sirrine disagrees with this notion, believing instead that content isn't even relevant. "It isn’t about the content anymore – I can find out anything in the world on any subject in the world in ten seconds on Google - the nature of teaching has to change to be more centered upon innovation, creativity, compilation, communication, teamwork and eliminating the fear of failure."

Whether it's building the perfect hardware for the market -- and I believe Perlow has a point here that we have to consider price, battery life and durability when building eTextbook reading devices--the content as Landis believes or the software and services as Sirrine thinks, it's clear the way we deliver textbooks to children is going to be changing in a dramatic way over the next 10 years, and we have to be thinking about how all of three of these areas will come together to develop the perfect eTextbook device.
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