Colleges are Still Slow to Embrace eBooks

Despite the fact that e-textbooks sales increased 44.3% in the U.S. higher education market in 2011, colleges are still slow to embrace the concept of moving to eBooks. The $267.3 million market for college textbook ebooks, reported by the Tuscon Citizen, may be the way of the future, if colleges would entertain the benefits for the students.

“Today’s 8th graders will enter college expecting to use e-books,” says CEO of Chegg, Dan Rosensweig, an online textbook retailer. “We are at the beginning of this arc.”

Ridiculous Cost of Textbooks

For many students, purchasing a $200 textbook for one class is not an option, so they participate in study groups and the professor’s lectures with the hope that they can pass the class without the book. Additionally, universities like Virginia State University know that less than half of their students actually purchase the books, because they cannot afford to buy them.

Virginia State University has taken this fact into consideration and partnered with Flat World Knowledge, who publishes e-books that are exclusively written and easily modified by professors. They entered into a trial that would provide students with the opportunity to get ebooks for only $20. Flat World would also throw in digital learning supplements with each ebook purchase. So far, funds from VSU and a local grant have been paying for the costs.

Massive eBook Savings

Vatell Martin, a student at VSU, said the $20 fee was “nothing” compared to the cost of printed books. “If I was walking into a discussion on a topic, I can just (download and) take out the book and read it on my phone.” He is just one of the many students who are excited about transitioning from print-only books to having the option to buy etextbooks and the ability to download them onto phones and other handheld devices for easy access in the classroom.

However, the statistics reveal that only 11% of students are actually opting to purchase etextbooks, according to Student Monitor, a firm that studies market research. This figure demonstrates the sluggishness of the transition from traditional printed college textbooks to the up-and-coming etextbook generation. The slowness is not related to availability, because most textbooks also have a digital version and can be purchased online.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that PDF’s and other e-reader documents are a strain on the eyes and quite often difficult to read. And, according to Andrea Soto, who attends the University of Maryland, “You can’t highlight or underline things in the e-book. I find it more of a hassle.”

Changing Everything

Another option that students can try is renting books or buying a used version online, and sometimes this is less expensive than purchasing the e-version. Florida’s Daytona State College conducted a pilot study that was federally funded which revealed the fact that renting books was not much less than purchasing the textbook version. An additional reason that etextbooks are not necessarily the best route to take is that students cannot resell an e-textbook once they complete the course.

While e-books may be the up-and-coming option for future college classes and publishers are eager for the transition to etextbooks due to the income potential and reduction of print costs, and some students embrace having this option as opposed to printed textbooks, there are certainly several downfalls to the system that need to be worked out to help students save money and enjoy the convenience that ebooks provide.

Will the publishing industry succeed in encouraging college and university students to transition over to the etextbook versions of course books and leave traditional college textbooks behind? Only time will tell which direction college students will move in as we progress into a future that is destined to circulate around technology including handheld, mobile, wireless devices, e-readers and laptops.