Textbook publishing manifesto
Welcome to the new and improved microbiology textbook, Through the microscope: a look at all things small. You may have arrived here by clicking on a link at the Bacteriology Department website located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The effort of that textbook has now moved here and been expanded. This is now a complete textbook, including chapters on structure, metabolism, disease, the immune system, environmental microbiology and applied microbiology (See the table of contents below). Through the microscope's content coverage is complete and can serve as the textbook for an introductory microbiology course for majors or advanced non-majors. The book also endeavors to make the information engaging and dare I say it, fun to read. I hope you enjoy this text.
Through the microscope grew from a sense of excitement, interest and frustration. What a weird combination! The excitement and interest are for microbiology, a very important science if I do say so. The frustration stems from the trends I have seen in the book publishing industry. Frankly dear student, you are being taken to the cleaners. Textbook prices are too high. I find it appalling that a good textbook (and sometimes even a bad one) now costs $150! Textbook prices have risen at four times the rate of inflation. Now part of the problem, from the textbook publishers point of view, is the used book resale market. They only make money for a short window of time when the edition is new, after which everyone starts buying the used books instead. However, high book prices drive the used book market and they are caught in a vicious cycle of raising their prices to make a profit, which encourages more resale, lowering new book sales, which they respond to by increasing prices again. I think this also points out that the old way of making textbooks has failed. It's time for a new business model. I wanted to do something about high textbook prices besides convening another faculty committee. A second frustration was the realization that most publishers are too tied to the physical book and this weighs down their thinking, causing them to not use all the amazing tools available in an electronic book.
After being dumb enough to think I could actually pull this book off, I began a long journey of 3 years to bring it to fruition. I originally began this journey with what I thought was a new, up and coming electronic publisher. However, after several adventures with this company and several others, I realized that these organizations spend more time buying each other out and reshuffling their organizational charts than actually working on textbooks. The people who actually do the work are nice and often have a passion and talent for what they do, but because of all the uproar in the publishing industry, they are overworked and stressed out. It is a wonder that any textbook gets published. The remedy that many publishers are coming up with is to shove as much of the work of book publishing off onto the authors. I was expected to write the book, design the figures, chase down all copyrights for any images that we wanted to use, do our own marketing and create all sorts of value added content. My last publisher, a major player in the textbook industry, was going to do us the great favor of hosting it on their web site and maybe do a little editing and that was it. Eventually, after several disappointing conversations, and delays of over a year (caused by them), I started to wonder why they should get 90% of the royalties? In October of 2006 I asked to be released from the contract. I have been able to finish the book in 4 months time, ahead of schedule. One unexpected bonus is that I finally have total freedom to do what I want - many times I was restricted by somewhat arbitrary decisions made by the publisher to remove chapters or demands to follow certain formats.
You will find that this is not a conventional textbook. Nor is it a hard-cover textbook that I moved to the web. Both have been done before. This textbook was designed from the beginning to live on the web. Instead of having only text and images to convey the excitement of microbiology, Through the microscope contains movies, animations, interactive quizzes, searchable text, a pop-up glossary, and of course hyperlinks. This allows students to experience microbiology in a more concrete and dynamic way. For example, when talking about motility, a movie shows motile and non-motile microbes. When describing respiration and the proton motive force, students are shown the reactions and enzymes involved in moving protons across a membrane. Finally, this is a living document. I am constantly making updates to the textbook -- a correction or a new piece of data can be added at any time. While the student may not appreciate this, it is a boon to authors.
Let me also caution that I do not have the weight of a publisher behind us. This means that some of the figures are not pretty and some of the text could be more polished. However, I have done my best to make this book as clear and understandable as possible. Please realize that it will not be as slick as a textbook from a major publisher. The old adage, you get what you pay for does apply.
I hope you find this book useful in your studies.