Can Digital Textbooks Truly Replace the Print Kind?

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Of course, Inkling addresses several of the other pain points prevalent in traditional print as well. Textbook versions are constantly updated, incentivizing publishers by minimizing production costs (the big ones like McGraw-Hill are already onboard). Furthermore, students will be able to purchase sections of the text instead of buying the whole thing, with individual chapters costing as little as $2.99.

There are, however, challenges.

“It takes elbow grease to build each book,” MacInnis tells me. And it’s clear why.

Each interactive textbook is a media-heavy experience built from the ground up, and you can tell that it takes a respectable amount of manpower to put together each one.

For now the app’s also iPad-exclusive, and though a few of these educational institutions are giving the hardware away for free, for other students who don’t have such a luxury it’s an added layer of cost—and an expensive one at that.

But this much is clear: The traditional textbook model is and has been broken for quite some time. Whether digitally interactive ones like Inkling actually take off or not remains to be seen, and we probably won’t have a definitive answer for the next few years.

However, the solution to any problem begins with a step in a direction. And at least for now, that hazy mirage in the distance? A little more tangible, a little less of a dream.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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