Pay as you read textbooks?

I recently came across a fascinating interview at Publishing Perspectives with Max Basaraba, founder of  bookstep. The company aims to help college students take charge of  textbook pricing with a pay-as-you-read model. You can see how it works at bookstep’s website. The basic idea: users get a free 15 minute preview of a book, then pay with credits purchased in increments to read more. The website says the average price of keeping a book in your “library” for a course is $22.41, for the whole school year, $38.77.

Bookstep has a “never overpay guarantee;” if you rack up credits approaching the term or annual fee for your text, you can roll what you’ve already spent into that price. Texts are accessible on any device connected to the internet, stored “in the cloud.” Students or teachers can also store, share or sell content (notes, lectures, study guides, etc.), and connect online with other bookstep users to study together or ask questions.

As a parent and a former student, I think it sounds brilliant not to pay thousands of dollars for textbooks. As a writer who tracks publishing trends, I wonder if this model could kill printed textbooks. As a reference librarian who sees college kids working to help pay for their educations and jockeying for time and space to study in groups, I believe bookstep is providing a needed service.

My son took a French class that covered only four chapters of a textbook which cost nearly $200. With bookstep he could have used just what he needed at a much lower cost. Printed textbooks are so expensive I can see debt-laden students and parents flocking to a truly affordable digital format.

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