Students Still Resisting E-Textbooks, Data Shows

March 18th, 2013 No Comments Other

Using headphone and reading

With the ever-rising costs of higher education, students are ready to welcome just about anything that helps them save some money, but new e-textbooks don’t appear to part of the solution.

Leading online retailer Amazon has been offering students the option of buying and even renting Kindle textbooks instead of the often pricey traditional textbooks. According to Amazon, switching to e-textbooks could save students anywhere between 50% and 80% on regular textbook fees.

With the rental option, students can choose to rent a textbook for a minimum of 30 days, after which they can either purchase the book or extend the rental period.

Another company that is leading the way in the textbook market is Akademos, a provider of integrated online book stores and marketplaces for educational institutions. Through its website, Akademos provides colleges, universities and students with an easy way to buy and rent both traditional and digital textbooks. 

But despite the fact that e-textbooks could, theoretically, save students a significant amount of money on course material costs, the majority of students have been slow to catch on. In fact, according to Student Monitor, e-textbooks currently only account for about 9% of total textbook usage.

Because of this, some universities have begun requiring their students to purchase e-textbooks for certain courses. Indiana University was the first college to implement this policy by charging students for the e-textbooks required for their course through their bursar accounts.

In this way, students simply aren’t given the option of not buying the book, which makes it easier for the university to negotiate lower prices with publishing companies.

Most of the books in Indiana University’s program cost about half as much as they would elsewhere, but despite the potential cost savings, students and professors still seem to prefer traditional books to digital ones.

In an interview with USA Today, Indiana University Professor Timothy Baldwin commented that although he appreciated some aspects of the digital textbooks, he still longed to hold a book in his hands. He also stated that many of his students felt the same way.

The lag in e-textbook sales contrasts sharply with the sales of other types of e-books. Back in 2011, Amazon reported that it was selling more e-books than print books, and the Association of American Publishers revealed that in early 2011 its e-book sales had gone up by 160%, while hardcover and paperback sales were down by 20%.

So why should textbooks be any different from others type of e-books? John Squires, CEO of Akademos, explained that currently, only about 5% of the company’s textbook sales are in digital format.

He shed some light on the issue by explaining the three factors that, in his view, are holding e-textbooks back; price, copyright and quality.

 “E-books don’t currently provide sufficient value for students to move away from physical textbooks” he says. This may well be true.

Although e-textbooks are theoretically cheaper than traditional textbooks, price-conscious students do have an option that is cheaper than e-books – secondhand books. Not only are these used books cheaper to buy upfront, but they can also be resold at the end of a semester.

The second matter is the copyright issue. Most textbooks are under copyright controls, which prevent them from being easily shared or modified and make them unappealing to faculty and students.

Another thing that may be preventing this format of textbooks from taking off is the quality of the e-books that are made available to students.

Transforming a colorful, high-graphic textbook into an e-book format that is engaging is an expensive and time-consuming process, one that most publishers simply cannot afford at this time.

“In the end,” says John Squire, “it’s all about economics. E-books won’t take off until a model emerges whereby publishers can reduce prices and open up content for sharing and modification by faculty, and I don’t believe there’s anything on the horizon that suggests that such a model will emerge any time soon.” 

Image by Xanetia


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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