Moore's Law and the death of the textbook

Back in November 2000 I was practically booed from the stage for warning my fellow publishers that Moore’s Law was going to kill the textbook stone dead. Within 5 years, I argued, computers suitable for education were going to cost less than £100. After that point, it is simply so much cheaper to deliver educational content electronically that no school will be prepared to continue buying it in ‘squashed tree format’.

I am now forced to admit that I was wrong. The BBC reports that Nicholas Negroponte is introducing a £50 educational computer in the first quarter of 2006. I was out by a factor of two.

I was also being rather parochial in my thinking. I saw this as a phenomenon that would take hold first in the rich West, but that’s not the way Negroponte is thinking about it:

In China they spend $17 per child per year on textbooks. That’s for five or six years, so if we can distribute and sell laptops in quantities of one million or more to ministries of education that’s cheaper and the marketing overheads go away.

If you are a teacher coming up to a decision on whether to buy into a new textbook scheme, it may behove you to ask yourself whether you will still want to use that scheme once the computer:student ratio in the school has reached 1:1. That is going to happen well before the textbooks have reached the end of their planned life.

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