I’m sure this isn’t the only article on this story about the University of Michigan making a deal for ebooks for its students, but this is the one that I read today. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the U of M would be interested in electronic forms of books given it’s involvement with other forms of digitization (the HathiTrust, among others).
Some of the comments were more productive than the article, and (as of the point where I was reading), most of them were civil and constructive. One person argued that the inability to highlight or comment on electronic forms of textbooks would be problematic and someone replied to them pointing out that many digital texts allow for commenting and marking up.
One aspect of ebooks that I think is often ignored in articles like this is that implementation matters. Because an ebook could have annotation features does not mean that it does. Because it could have bookmarking or split screen viewing dose not mean that it does. One of the comment exchanges pointed out that the pilot program involved “renting” the ebooks for a single semester, rather than owning them permanently or long term.
Unfortunately, better functionality does not always (or even often) win the marketing and distribution battle. Token ring was better technologically than ethernet, but ethernet won the wired networking battle. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying to identify what it is we want our tech to do and which applications and devices do it for us.