Another Solution to the “Textbook Problem”

Well, my vacation is over.  I leave for the airport in a few hours on United Airlines (gear under my arm) for Lexington, Kentucky, by way of Chicago.

It’s been glorious to be at home, enjoying salad lunches and evening walks with Brenda, working into a routine, starting a new book (somebody shoot me), and upgrading Citation Machine — bringing both APA and MLA schemes into compliance with the latests editions of their respective writing manuals.  I’m going back to the speaking regiment without regrets of having wasted my time off — though we really do need to work in a vacation some where, some time.  Dreams of Nova Scotia are falling with the mercury.

Flickr Photo “Melbourne Espresso Book Machine” by Joanna Penn

Just a couple of things I’ve run across in the last few days.  According to a WIRED September 17 article, there are suggestions that we turn Google around and re-print the millions of dusty old books that the search engine company has spent so much time, energy, and argument scanning so that they are digitally available to us over the network.  A number of booksellers have purchased their own $100,000 Espresso Book Machine, capable of printing, on demand, a 300 page book with color cover in about 4 minutes.

That means you can stop into the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, and for less than $10, custom-order your own copy of Dame Curtsey’s Book of Candy Making, the third edition of which was published in 1920 and which can only be found online for $47.00 used. ((Singel, Ryan. “Google Lets You Custom-Print Millions of Public Domain Books.” WIRED  17 Sep 2009: n. pag. Web. 18 Sep 2009. <>.))

I wrote about a similar practice in February of 2008 (Reading the Old in the Old Ways of Reading) using any of the on-demand publishing services to print your choice of ancients, and are lots of ways of describing this as a long-tail game-changer.  But I especially like that this technology can enable local bookstores to compete more effectively with

In a similar vein, I ran across this September 17 USAToday article, This HP Printer doesn’t Need a PC to Print Stuff from he Web. ((Baig, Edward C. “This HP printer doesn’t need a PC to print stuff from the Web.” USAToday 17 Sep 2009: n. pag. Web. 18 Sep 2009. <>.))  I can see several worthy niches for a device like this, but what seemed especially exciting was installing a row of these things your textbook storage room.

<sarc>You simply connect to a specially designed widget produced by your textbook publishers, and with the push of the start printing the very latest up-to-date editions of your currently studied chapter of your state board of education adopted science textbook.  If there occurs the discover of a new planetoid orbiting beyond Neptune, then you simply ask your students to toss their chapters on the Solar System and have your school secretary print out new ones.  This just makes too much sense…</sarc>

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6 thoughts on “Another Solution to the “Textbook Problem””

  1. Hi Dave,

    Your post is another great example of the dangers of “either or” thinking. Do we choose print or electronic books? The answer should be “yes” to most “either or” questions.

    Yes, we should have print and electronic books.

    Thanks and happy travels! (I am guiltily taking a 5 day vacation starting tomorrow.)


  2. That’s definitely a very interesting proposition. It would certainly make it easier to update textbooks, it would save paper, and it would save the students’ backs!

  3. I am intrigued by the idea – how handy! and far less wasteful than what we do now. But (there is always a “but” in the room!) when I think about how well (NOT) the printers and copiers in our building are maintained, and how in certain times of desperate need they have not worked for me it makes me tentative. Schools in general seem to have a problem with buying cool expensive equipment that they cannot afford (or don’t have the manpower) to maintain.

  4. I think digital textbooks are the wave of the future. History, technology, and science change so much, that books can easily become out of date. The fact that electronic books can become more multimedia and interactive, makes it even better. The hold up is a good device on which to view these books. I suspect Apple’s rumor’s Tablet/eBook reader will fill the nitch, but it is still just a rumor at this point.

    To view more of my thoughts, check out my video at (plus some tutorial/how-to/product review videos as well)

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