Colleges Switch To EBooks To Cut Costs Even Though Students Prefer Traditional Textbooks

October 25, 2010

Stack of textbooks next to eReaderAccording to The New York Times, today's technologically adept college student still prefers traditional textbooks. "It wouldn't be the same without books. They've defined 'academia' for a thousand years," said Faton Begolli, a sophomore at Hamilton College.

The Chronicle of Higher Education stated that students tend to be more conservative when it comes to school materials. Still, some schools are forcing college students to change.

Traditionally, professors expect students to read the required texts, but do not actually require students to purchase textbooks. Therefore, many students have found ways to avoid expensive textbook costs, which have gone up an average of 186 percent between 1986 and 2005. Instead, students buy a used version, borrow a copy from the library or friend or simply go without it.

In an effort to help cut costs, some colleges have come up with a new model where students are required to pay a course materials fee that covers the costs of eBooks. According to eCampus News, Florida's Daytona State College is working towards being a "100 percent" eBook campus. The school is negotiating with publishers so that students can purchase electronic textbooks for $20 each. Additionally, the school will also offer affordable eReaders to the students. The goal of the initiative, said officials, is to reduce annual textbook costs by 50 to 80 percent.

School officials felt compelled to create the initiative after seeing students drop out due to costly textbook fees. "When you look at why students withdraw from schools, so many of the responses are textbook related," said Rand S. Spiwak, Daytona's chief financial officer and executive vice president. Furthermore, he said to The Chronicle of Higher Education, "When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong."

Electronic textbooks are not only cheaper to produce; they also make bulk purchases much easier, which is more cost efficient for colleges and students. Publishers, who only profit when students buy a new book, also benefit by cutting out the used book market.

According to eCampus News, if everything goes as planned, Daytona's eBook initiative will begin next summer. Campus technologists will work out any kinks that might come up before the fall 2011 semester starts.

Virginia State University's business school has also started to transition to eBooks, noted The Chronicle of Higher Education. The school recently made a deal with Flat World Knowledge. The publisher offered the school a bulk rate of $20 per student per course. In addition to a PDF textbook, students can also download a study guide, an audio version or an iPad edition--a package normally worth $100.

However, as The New York Times pointed out, many students are reluctant to switch. Digital book sales only made up three percent of textbook sales and although the number is expected to grow to 10 to 15 percent by 2012, that percentage is still small compared to traditional textbook sales. "Students grew up learning from print books so as they transition to higher education, it's not surprising that they carry a preference for a format that they are most accustomed to," said Nicole Allen, textbooks campaign director for the Student Public Interest Research Groups.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Florida college looks to become eBook pioneer," ecampusnews.com, October 25, 2010, Dennis Carter

"In a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks," NYTimes.com, October 19, 2010, Lisa W. Foderaro

"To Save Students Money, Colleges May Force a Switch to E-Textbooks," chronicle.com, October 24, 2010, Jeffrey R. Young

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