There have been a flurry of stories lately, including this one on C/Net , clucking about the rising success of self-published e-books. A few of these digital tomes have even sold more than 100,000 “copies,” well ahead of most professionally published works.
Many self-pubbed e-books are priced between 99 cents and $2.99, which puts them in the same price range as the sweet and savory snacks strategically arrayed at the grocery store checkout. And indeed, some speculate the low pricing turns these e-books into online impulse purchases, driving up sales and ultimately adding up to considerable coin in their authors’ pockets.
But of course these e-books are nearly all novels, usually in thriller, romance, or science fiction/fantasy genres. How will self-published e-books play out in the world of academic course materials?
It’s not far-fetched to think a professor might write a text, publish it as an e-book, and e-mail review copies to colleagues, suggesting adoption of the title for their courses and providing a link where students might purchase it. While many higher-ed institutions, and even state legislatures, have placed restrictions on professors requiring students to buy their own books for class, faculty in most cases would be free to produce e-books for classes not their own. For example, a faculty member teaching 100-level courses in psychology could publish an e-book for upperclass- or graduate-level classes. This form of academic self-publishing is also at the heart of much of the open source or open educational resource (OER) movement.
An academic e-book would be priced a lot higher than a 99-cent paranormal romance, but on the flip side it would almost certainly be priced much lower than traditional print textbooks. At the same time, the professor would receive more per copy than the usual royalty on a p-book.
This model wouldn’t work as well for full-length pedagogical textbooks -- professor-authors rely on publishers to fact-check, produce charts and graphs, find artwork, and so on -- but it could be feasible for publishing narrower academic topics in a professor’s field of research. There’s also the possibility that academicians who don’t have a faculty appointment at present might latch onto self-publishing e-texts as a way to generate income and remain connected to their field.