Doubts raised over plans to develop school e-books

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am


The government's HK$50 million subsidy to develop the e-textbook market in an attempt to cut the rising cost of school books drew criticism from industry representatives at a briefing session yesterday.

The Education Bureau will today start accepting applications from companies or publishers who do not operate for profit to receive a grant of up to 50 per cent of the development cost of an e-textbook for primary and secondary pupils, or HK$4 million per project.

The grant would be given on a dollar-for-dollar basis and distributed in five phases, the government said. Applications will close on September 24.

'I wonder what the real purpose behind it is,' said Dr Kan Wing-kay, a retired professor of computer science who taught at Chinese University and now runs the Win Key Information Technology firm.

'The current scheme will not promote e-books but is intended to break up the monopoly of the publishing industry,' he said, citing the government's desire to only turn hard copies into computer versions.

The bureau said the scheme was to encourage potential e-textbook publishers to develop 'a new, rich and sustainable e-textbook market'.

While the bureau said 60 per cent of the selection would be based on quality and 30 per cent on price, Sharon Wong, an assistant general manager of the Commercial Press, worried this still meant 'the one who offered the lowest price got the deal'.

Many also raised the issue over the cost of the hardware required to run e-books, which would make the scheme ineffective.

Last May publishers released the price list of textbooks for 2012-13, with 30 per cent of them priced 2 per cent higher on average, and some up by 4 per cent. This followed the withdrawal of book prices by publishers in protest at the government postponing the release of its annual list of recommended books.

The e-book proposal was first raised in the 2008 policy address. In 2009 the government asked publishers to separate the sales of textbooks and teaching materials, effective from 2010; however, this was delayed until 2011 because of objections by publishers.