Are Medical Textbooks Obsolete?

Ron Raducanu DPM FACFAS

I am a voracious reader. I love books and immersing myself in the new worlds the best fiction writers create. I also love textbooks. Throughout college and podiatry school, I spent most of my money -- anything not reserved for living or education expenses -- on any text I could find. In between studying for exams, I would leaf through these texts to pick up bits of information I hoped would stick in my databank for future use.

When I was a child, I read all the classics and I still remember the touch and smell of the paper and flipping through the pages. I recall this feeling when I go into bookstores, particularly second-hand bookstores as they evoke a certain nostalgia with old and tattered books on the shelves. I find it magical. In New Jersey, I live down the road from a great restaurant called The Library II. As the name implies, the restaurant was once an actual library and has that old, musty smell of used books that still line the walls of the restaurant. Awesome.

Despite all of this nostalgia for the printed page, my wife was very surprised when I recently bought the iPad 2, which I now use as my e-reader. With the multitude of apps, I have left my infatuation with printed pages behind me. Do I miss the feel and smell of the pages? Not so much. Thankfully, I still get my regular book fix when I read to my children but I do the majority of my personal reading on my iPad.

Has the digital age obliterated our need for the written page and textbooks? When I discuss surgical textbooks with colleagues, it is clear that by the time publishers print these texts, some of the content is behind the times. I believe these textbooks are landmark achievements and are still relevant, but some may argue that such texts are a thing of the past.

Today, there is so much information available online, on our smartphones and our tablet devices. Do we really need print texts taking up space on a library shelf? Does it make more sense to stop printing textbooks and start publishing new editions exclusively online, perhaps chapter by chapter as they become available? Could this eliminate the inevitable lag in the print publishing process?

Why am I preoccupied with this subject? Well, in conversations I have had with colleagues and students, there seems to be a need for a comprehensive podopediatric textbook. The textbook Pediatric Foot and Ankle Surgery (Saunders) by Richard Jay, DPM, FACFAS, is excellent and there are a few physical examination podopediatric texts out there. However, for some reason, the community I interact with seems to think there is a need for a more comprehensive podopediatrics textbook.

With this in mind, I began to seriously consider the task of putting such a textbook together. I think I can offer at least some information on the subject that would be useful to students, residents and practitioners. I am also proud to say I have a very good rapport with some of the leaders in this subspecialty. I wonder if they think it would be useful to mount such a project and if they would be willing to lend their pens to such an endeavor.

Of course, the most relevant question to answer is determining the best publishing format for such a project. Is it still relevant to publish a print textbook or is this a dying art?

I would like to know what you think. Do you still buy textbooks? Are students still absorbing these textbooks like we used to back in the day before e-readers and tablet devices? What do you think?

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