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8/1/2010
10:11 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Sun Founder McNealy Attacks Textbook Industry Via Web

With two daughters in college, I drop about $2,500 a year on college textbooks, and realize many millions of others are in the same smelly and leaky boat. So it's great to see that pugnacious Sun founder Scott McNealy is looking to use the Internet and open-source technology to give back to those textbook fleecers the same sort of thrashing they've been giving the rest of us for so many years.

With two daughters in college, I drop about $2,500 a year on college textbooks, and realize many millions of others are in the same smelly and leaky boat. So it's great to see that pugnacious Sun founder Scott McNealy is looking to use the Internet and open-source technology to give back to those textbook fleecers the same sort of thrashing they've been giving the rest of us for so many years.From an article in the New York Times:

"Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time," Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago.

"We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks" in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. "It seems to me we could put that all online for free."

The nonprofit Curriki fits into an ever-expanding list of organizations that seek to bring the blunt force of Internet economics to bear on the education market. Even the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.

Reporter Ashlee Vance then offers an absolutely fantastic quote from a textbook-publishing executive, who says all the right things in the most politically correct way possible but has to be wishing inside that this whole darned disruptive Internet thing would just go away and let the textbook companies go back to selling outdated information at wildly inflated prices to captive customers with zero alternatives.

Her comment's a doozy, and I hope you like it even half as much as I did:

"Today, we are engaged in a very different dialogue with our customers," says Wendy Colby, a senior vice president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "Our customers are asking us to look at different ways to experiment and to look at different value-based pricing models."

Yes, I'll bet they are. I'm just surprised that Colby didn't add something like, 'Of course, even without the online alternatives to our traditional business that outsiders are proposing, we were just about to head down this value-based pricing path all on our own because, well, because we've always been about value-based pricing, except it used to be that all the value went to us.'

Reporter Vance captures another deeply revealing comment from Colby as she attempts to convey how her company is simply giddy with excitement at the prospect of having its immensely lucrative business model shredded by online entrepreneurs and users.

Ms. Colby of Houghton Mifflin puts the state of affairs politely: "I think the open-source movement is opening a whole new conversation, and that is what is exciting to us."

Right-and no doubt that's the same sense of excitement that a lot of high-end bookstores felt when Amazon began torpedoing their businesses in rapid and conclusive fashion.

It's a terrific piece with lots of rich detail about the efforts of McNealy's company and others to inspire the new and "very different dialogue" that Colby and other textbook publishers are having with customers who suddenly have some very attractive and non-traditional options to pursue.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Scott McNealy On Steve Jobs And Larry Ellison

Oracle CEO Ellison: Sun Will Be Profitable In February

Global CIO: Oracle-Sun Biggest Challenge Isn't Technology-It's People

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