Looking to address the problems posed by high textbook prices, the used textbook market and the threat of digital piracy, Macmillan is launching, Dynamic Books, a new digital publishing platform and line of interactive digital textbooks that can be freely customized by professors, downloaded or accessed online or purchased in print-on-demand print editions. The Dynamic Book line will launch August 1 with 20 titles and will grow to 100 titles initially.

Clancy Marshall, general manager of Macmillan's new Dynamic Books subsidiary unit, said the new online textbook platform was developed over the last two years in conjunction with digital textbook publisher Vital Source and its sister Ingram company, POD vendor Lightning Source. Marshall said that Macmillan surveyed students, professors and textbook authors looking to develop a new way to deliver instructional material. "Students are unhappy with the prices of textbooks," Marshall acknowledged, "professors hate revised editions, piracy is growing and e-textbooks currently in the market aren't really selling."

Marshall said Dynamic Books are designed to be an interactive and downloadable textbook that allows individual professors to rewrite the text, add additional information or comments or even delete unnecessary sections. In addition, professors can upload video or audio components and Marshall said professors can keep their customized versions forever.

Macmillan's textbook authors do not object to the concept of customized textbooks, Marshal explained, because individually personalized content and revised sections in the Dynamic Book will be clearly labeled as such and marked with the instructor's name. In addition, Macmillan's editors and textbook authors will review the best of the revisions and include them in formal updates to the text every six months. "This keeps the material current without having to issue a revised edition," said Marshall, who described the feature as "open source without the scary part of just anybody changing the text."

Most textbook authors have been instructors as well, Marshal said, "and they know that teachers want to personalize these books and teach them in their own way." And Marshall said that professors whose revisions are included in official updates will be eligible to receive a $1 royalty when texts with their additions are purchased. Dynamic Books also allow students to print out a limited number of pages or they can buy a POD version of the Dynamic Book title with their professor's customized comments in a black & white bound print edition for half the print price or a full color version for the full print textbook price.

The new interactive Dynamic Book digital texts offer attractive pricing. Marshal said a $150 traditional print textbook will cost about $47 for the digital Dynamic Book edition. Students can access the Dynamic edition online or download it to a laptop, an iPhone or Apple's much anticipated iPad, due on the market at the end of March. "We're thrilled over the iPad, its perfect for Dynamic Books," said Marshall. Indeed, Dynamic Books are designed for cloud computing--the book as well as changes and additions are stored in the student's online library--and Marshall described a classroom scenario in which teachers and class are simultaneously on wired laptops or mobile devices sharing the text, allowing the professor to revise and update his notes or modify the text immediately while the class is reading.

The books will be available directly from Macmillan and the Dynamic Books web site as well as through college bookstores. Until the launch on August 1, the DB website will offer information, demoes and tutorials about the new format. And Marshall said that while Macmillan will initially offer its own texts in the Dynamic Book platform, the house plans to open the platform to texts from other publishers. She expects that Dynamic Books will even change the way textbooks are conceived and written.

"We think it's a fresh approach to the publishing model; its the best of the open source approach and it will enable teachers, protect the author's version and the teacher's edits," said Marshall. "We can sell modular content; a student can buy chapter 1 or chapter 3 and authors can write textbooks in a different way. Now we can say to a student that the teacher has really written the book for you. It makes the course and the book more useful for the student and for the professor."