Culture

Failing grade on e-books

Textbook publishers came up with a good idea and then promptly shot themselves in the foot.

Ten schools are participating in a digital publishing trial program that theoretically should have appealed to a lot of undergrads. After all, who wants to blow $117 to buy the latest version of Paul Samuelson's economics textbook? Instead of lugging around heavy tomes, students could be a computer click away from accessing their required texts.

So far, so good. But the folks behind this program inexplicably imposed a five-month expiration date. After then, poof! Not to be overly hard on the book publishers but have they been paying attention? Ignoring recent history, they're repeating the same mistake committed by the film and music studios earlier this decade. Instead of embracing digital technology, they're still too freaked out about how to coexist with the new cyber world. So it was they came up with a kludgy half-way solution, including restrictions to guarantee control over their copyrighted content.

I'm sure a few "early adopters" will give this a whirl. But there's little doubt how the vast majority of students will vote with their pocketbooks. Too bad – this otherwise might have been the boost that finally put e-books over the top.