There was an interesting article in yesterday’s LA Time’s that gives a timely perspective on the proliferation of e-textbooks in the student market. The crux of the argument is that e-textbooks, although half the price of print textbooks, may actually not be cheaper in the long run. Students can usually return their print textbooks for 50% of what they initially paid and 3/4 of students, recently surveyed, said they would not read e-textbooks on their computer and would instead print them out. Therefore in the long run, the price of e-textbooks may actually be more expensive.
I am going to disagree with the general thesis here and say that e-textbooks are in fact cheaper, however the publishing industry needs to be innovative about how they package and distribute these products. Firstly, I am going to disagree with the fact that students can return their books for 50% of the face value. I am not too far removed from my university years to remember going back to the campus bookstore with a bundle of textbooks cradled in my arms hoping to come home with a nice sum of cash. Year after year I would be dissapointed by the measly amount of money I was refunded and in some cases the amount was so negligable that I chose to keep the textbook. Therefore to base an argument on the fact that students are receiving 50% of the money they spend on physical textbooks back seems flawed.
On another note educational publishers, like Taylor and Francis, are becoming very innovative in the ways that they are packaging their textbooks for students. Students can now pick and choose which chapters of the textbook they want to buy instead of forking out $1000 for the entire book. Many professors will only assign a handful of chapters as requird reading for a given semester and by only buying the chapters they need, students can greatly reduce the money they spend on textbooks.
Finally I need to address the fact that 3/4 of unviersity students said they do not feel comfortable reading textbooks on their computer and instead would opt to print them out. There are two points that need to be made here. Firstly, as e-readers become widely available (Amazon may actually be creating a Kindle specifically designed for students … think easy highlighting and in-line note taking) students will find that they only need to pay for the upfront cost of the reader and that reading using tools like the Kindle are actually even more comfortable than reading on printed paper. This will greatly reduce the cost of going to the copy shop and printing out an entire book. However, publishers must not disregard the fact that 75% of students said that they would not feel comfortable reading on a computer screen. Most students in the early days will not buy Kindles and the publishers and e-book distributors need to find ways of making students more comfortable reading on their screens if they want to make e-books economically attractive. This has been a major topics of focus for one of my clients called Spreed. They are dedicated to the field of eye science to understand how the end-user receives information from a monitor. They have developed a very unique way of display text on a screen so that students may find it far easier to read their textbooks on their computer instead of printing them out. Publishers must search to find ways of presenting their textbooks on computer screens in a way that students will not feel the need to run to the copy shop.
The bottom line is that the report really only gives one side of the story and does not look too far into the future. The trends are pretty clear and as publishers and students become more comfortable with this changing industry, we will find that e-textbooks are far cheaper and superior in quality to the printed textbooks of the past. However, please take a look at the LA Time’s article that can be found below and come back here to leave your thoughts on this topic, I would love to hear what you think.
E-textbooks may not be cheaper than printer ones, report says: LA Times
A sharply critical report released Monday asserts that commercial publishers are going about the digital textbook revolution the wrong way. Commercial e-textbooks are no cheaper than hard-copy editions when you take into account that students can sell print books back to the bookstore for half the cover price, according to the report from a national coalition of student public interest research groups. And restrictions on printing and online access make commercial e-books unfeasible for many students, the report said.