It is not often I review textbooks on the blog. In fact, I am not sure I ever have before. Mostly that is just because I am so firmly entrenched with this one, as it was the one I learned with and even helped a bit on an edition or two ago. Now, I use that one for my principal classes, but do not use a textbook for my teacher leader or undergraduate classes.
But, recently I was made aware of a new textbook on education law that takes a different approach to publishing, namely, no publisher. John Dayton's new book, Education Law: Principles, Policy & Practice, has taken a self-publishing approach. It is a very comprehensive (480 pages) look at education law. It is also not a casebook, meaning John actually wrote all of the text. There is also a Kindle version coming soon. I have just briefly scanned the book and find it to be very well constructed and particularly strong on constitutional issues. It was clearly a labor of love and I recommend you at least give it a look on Amazon. To those folks teaching law out there, I'm sure if you contacted John he could get you part of the book to review even.
What is really interesting to me about the book, though, is that it signals a new potential path for publishing that changes the game. How, you ask?
(1) First, this type of publishing keeps costs much lower. So much of the price of a textbook is wrapped up in the publisher's overhead costs and not in the actual printing of the book. Pearson, all of those teaching in universities know, has an enormous staff. I have a personal Pearson representative that stops in my office about every three months. That is a salary John Dayton does not have to pay, nor does Amazon, nor does the start-up partner CreateSpace, and most importantly nor do any customers. In essence, all the cost of this book entails is the compensation for the time John spent writing it, the very small amount he paid CreateSpace to help with the process, and the cut Amazon takes. The author, usually the professor, is not in this for the money. There is some money, don't get me wrong, but ask your standard textbook author whether they care about the royalties and I bet they do not. There are so many other, and better, reasons to do it anyway (although I'm not sure vita-boost counts as better). Nevertheless, very few professors are motivated by the royalty money. Bottom line?
Ask your students out there which one they favor.
(2) Copyright. As an author, when you work with a standard publisher you lose the copyright to your work. The publisher holds and controls the rights to the future use of the book. This is a bad thing for everyone but the publisher. When a book runs initially, I do not mind the publisher recouping their costs even with a little extra added on for profit. What I do mind is the publisher keeping the rights of that book under lock and key long after their investment as been paid off and the book is marketable. Standard copyright these days is around 100 years. Thus, any traditional book (or journal article for that matter) is useful only while marketable and only to those capable and willing to pay the price (see #1, above).
Take away this traditional copyright game, however, and a whole new world opens up. An author has so many more options both in the near term and in the long term. The author can share the book with whomever he/she pleases. Can choose to use it in their own classes free of charge. Can partner with professional organizations to make snippets public. Can create websites that do so many different things. Can put the text out in ePUB, so it is digital and interactive. Can update the text whenever. And on and on. The long-term, though, is even more interesting to me. Once an author recoups the initial costs, why not release the text to the public with a Creative Commons license? Let the world share and remix and build from the text? Why not? So many awesome possibilities ... that are not behind a 100 year firewall.
(3) Flexibility - When I write my textbook, I am going to put YouTube videos in it. No, not as some add on CD or some outside website with a crappy URL ... I mean seriously right in the text, sometimes in place of the text, right there seamlessly in the book. Why try to describe Savana Redding's case when she can describe it for herself? Seriously? When the few (and believe me, still few) publishers that have solicited me to write for them hear this, their eyes get really big and they cock their head a bit in confusion and look for an exit. But, I am serious. Traditional publishers ... are traditional. Print offers very little flexibility. Black, white, 8 1/2 x 11 ... that's about it. Digital text is different.
Ultimately, why I wanted to write this post is just to let you know it is okay to think differently about publishing. To have different expectations of authors, publishers, booksellers, and consumers. The inertia in the traditional publishing model is deep and long-lasting. We are going to be printing books in publishing houses for a great while longer. But, it is not the only model now. In niche fields like ours, it may not even be the best model. Certainly this book is a test case and we shall see in a few years the results. But, whether or not this effort is successful, it will not be the last effort (yes, that is a personal promise). Information is different now and it needs to be treated differently. This was one bold step forward along that path.
Bravo, Professor Dayton. Thank you for being a leader.