The Discovery Channel Enters the Digital Textbook World

Discovery Communications, the company behind Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and TLC is expanding into digital textbooks and giving their new products the kind of name other publishers probably wish they’d come up first: Techbooks.

The new products come with all the great stuff we’ve come to expect from digital textbooks: video, downloadable content, interactive diagrams, labs and quizzes.

I’m not a parent yet, but I’d probably feel comfortable offering my child a digital textbook featuring content from the company that produces Animal Planet. Discovery is in the business of making science and learning fascinating, and by most accounts, they’re succeeding. I mean, have you seen Planet Earth? It’s amazing.

A New York Times article featured an in-depth look at Discovery’s new business move and explored some of the company’s earlier educational ventures.

“Educational content is core to our DNA, and we’re unencumbered,” said David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery. “Unlike traditional textbook publishers, we’re not defending a dying business.”

Mr. Zaslav’s words are only correct if we stick to the belief that traditional textbook publishers are stubbornly and unwisely focusing their businesses on just print media. An increasing number of publishers like the Big Three (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson and McGraw Hill) are all augmenting their businesses by focusing on digital textbooks. When you factor in the support of Apple, which recently started selling e-books through iTunes, those publishing companies suddenly don’t look quite as stagnant as Zaslav would have us believe.

The article continues by focusing on a number of different companies which dabble in digital textbooks and education technology. Disney is giving it a shot in China, News Corporation recently launched Amplify, and NBC introduced an archival service for web articles aimed at teachers.

Education is quickly emerging as the answer for media companies searching for ways to keep their businesses viable as new technology alters how consumers obtain information. Discovery Communications (which used to be called Cable Education Network and had a business that revolved shipping VHS cassettes to classrooms) has always been in the education business. Their latest move into digital textbooks seems like a high-tech return to their roots.