Does Print Serve A Purpose For Us Anymore? Is the Term “Textbook” Even Relevant?

Cover by Robert Krouskoff Newsweek March 08, 1971Big changes in the publishing industry provide us with the opportunity to redefine the resources we provide to our students.   It is an opportunity that we cannot ignore, and we are already in the midst of this sea change both in and outside of the education arena.  Consider the following items.

After 79 years in print, Newsweek recently gave up that medium and chose to go “online only.”  They aren’t the first major magazine to do so.  US News and World Reports ceased its print publication in 2010, with editor Brian Kelly commenting, “Print was the form that served a purpose, and for us it doesn’t anymore.”1

Strong economic and demographic trends are forcing theses changes at an accelerated rate.  Publications such as Newsweek and US News and World Report did not reinvent their business model as part of some grand social experiment; they’ve done so because the markets demand it and if they don’t adapt they will not survive.

The textbook industry is also feeling the pressure to change.  Those with the right vision should be rewarded, and those who cling to an outdated model should fade into the past.  The differences in approach are significant.  Some publishers promise “online content” but merely deliver a PDF version of the textbook so students can read the same text in a digital format.  Ho humm…  Others deliver dynamic content aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  This has much greater promise.  The next step is to provide students the opportunity to create, modify, debate, and defend the content with which they are engaged.

Perhaps it is time to retire the word “textbook” from our vocabulary.  With unlimited access to real time information, students and teachers can create online resources that are relevant, up-to-date, and have a feedback loop from an authentic audience that is beyond their school district, their state, and their country. It will require strong leadership and some out of the box thinking, but forward thinking publishers and magazines have already paved the path for us and selected this model in order to remain relevant to their readers.  We owe the same to our students.


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