O'Reilly tests virtual textbooks

When O'Reilly, considered one of the most innovative technology book publishers in the world, is beta testing a new program called SafariU (PDF). Based on their existing Safari service, which provides online access to a virtual bookshelf of technical books for a single monthly fee, SafariU provides a way for teachers to assemble class material from a variety of (O'Reilly's) books and present them in either online or printed formats. Physical delivery can be made or the students can access the books online.

Of course, right now it is coming from a single publisher, but this is the kind of flexible intellectual property handling that has been dreamed of by the consuming public and micropublishing advocates for years.

Basically, the teacher designates parts of the books that he (or she) feels is appropriate for each portion of his class and arranges them into an online syllabus. From here, the students can access the chapters in question and progress through the course material. Costs are zero to the teacher and fixed to the student (basically $10/month for each month of the class, so call it $39.95 for a 4-month standard college course).

Teachers can also add additional content, such as workbooks, assignments, lectures, and presentations using a variety of formats.

The books cost $0.16/page (including cover and binding) and appear to be a requirement of the program--although it isn't clear. The course subscription includes online access to up to 10 books of the professors choosing for the duration of the course.