Case Studies

Dynamic Books

Client: Macmillan New Ventures

Project Sponsor: Kristina Treadway

Macmillan Science and Education is a division of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, headquartered in Germany and one of the leading media companies in the world.

Macmillan Education is a global education company, developing print, digital and online solutions that support teachers, researchers, students and educators around the world. They specialise in three key markets ELT, School Curriculum and Higher Education.

Challenge: Let college professors create curated ebooks.

Macmillan wanted to create the killer ‘textbook’ app. Their traditional textbook business needed innovation to compete in a marketplace littered with alternatives such as used books and pirated material. Textbooks are notoriously expensive, yet a required cost for college students. Dynamic Books allows professors dynamically create an online textbook from curated chapters from multiple original textbooks from the Macmillan catalogue. This custom textbook is dynamically priced for students by the amount of materials needed for the course. This helped reduce student costs, secure the publishers intellectual property, and strengthen the overall revenue stability for Macmillan.

Solution: Build a software tool to customize and deliver textbooks.

DynamicBooks is a software solution composed of two main tools. A user friendly CMS that allows faculty members to completely customize the content of their textbook. The other is a socially oriented ereader for students to engage the material.

CommonLibrary LCMS (CL) was used as scaffolding to build these applications, it allowed efficient and dynamic storage for the textbook contents in its different stages, from the original sources to the delivery of the end product. Versioning and concurrency control were two key features of CL in the development of these tools.

Edify worked sidebyside with the customer providing the technical solution from end to end, including the definition of the development process, software architecture, quality assurance and the deployment architecture.

Two specially interesting technical challenges for Edify were:

  1. The choice of a standardized content format, a decision that would affect the lifetime of the product. The customer needed a standard format that could be customizable for rendering, and that allowed to generate printed and online books. At the same time, it needed to allow flexibility for programmatic changes, as the content would be very dynamic due to the nature of the application.
  2. The performance requirements introduced by the amount of students consuming textbooks in the platform. There was a small set of users doing heavy processing on the books, and a considerable quantity (+14k) of users consuming the content. This situation required efforts from the team’s architect and sysadmin to setup a layout where the heavy processing didn’t affect the consuming users. The platform needed to scale dynamically to accommodate to seasonal traffic peaks (e.g. final exams).

This solution was build using the following technologies:

  • Java / Groovy
  • Javascript / HTML5 / CSS3
  • XML
  • Spring / Hibernate
  • MySQL
  • CommonLibrary LCMS
  • Amazon Web Services platform

Result: We created an online tool called Dynamic Books.

Called by Business Insider website the 'Wikipedia Of Textbooks', Dynamic Books allows college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes. The modifiable e-book editions were much cheaper than traditional print textbooks. 'Psychology', for example, which has a list price of $134.29 (available on Barnes & Noble ’s Web site for $122.73), was sold for $48.76 in the DynamicBooks version.

Dynamicbooks.com continues to be a flagship product for Macmillan Education in the delivery of custom elearning material. Instructors who have tested the DynamicBooks software say they like the idea of being able to finetune a textbook. “There’s almost always some piece here or some piece there that a faculty person would have rather done differently,” said Todd Ruskell, senior lecturer in physics at the Colorado School of Mines, who tested an electronic edition of 'Physics for Scientists and Engineers' by Paul A. Tipler and Gene Mosca.

The New York Times made an article on this tool.

Why Edify?

Our decades of experience in enterprise software development creates an effective but flexible team that match existing processes and infrastructure for the minimum cost and maximum efficiency.

Our team has been central in the development of a variety of educational, learning, and content management systems. Our customers rely upon our pragmatic computer science practice with a comprehension of the education and knowledge marketplace. We offer strategic solutions that encompass our customers' organizational culture, business needs and lifecycle development processes.

Kristina Treadway

/Macmillan New Ventures

"The Edify team has always been really great at communication. I like their willingness to ask questions (and the right ones) when things are not clear. I think they are also well spoken and able to provide good recommendations when needed. Diego's written communication (i.e. load test reports) are really fantastic."