Popularity Of Digital Textbooks Continues To Grow

November 28, 2011

Electronic reading device on top of textbooksWhile most college textbooks are still widely read on paper, the switch to digital is gaining ground.

As The New York Times reported, the private New Jersey-based student market research company Student Monitor found that about 5 percent of all textbooks acquired in the fall in the United States were digital. This was a significant jump from the spring semester, when the number was just 2.1 percent.

Moreover, Simba Information, a research company specializing in publishing, predicted that electronic textbooks will generate $267.3 million this year in sales within the United States--a staggering 44.3 percent increase over last year.

Kathy Mickey, a senior analyst at Simba, told the Times that digital textbooks were expected "to be the growth driver for the industry in the future." Her company estimated that digital textbooks will make up 11 percent of the textbook market revenue by 2013.

Simba also found that other multimedia materials, including downloadable lectures, website access for students and teaching aids for instructors, are becoming more popular as well. For example, Cengage Learning's curriculum solutions Aplia (homework assistance) and SAM (skills-assessment assistance) experienced more than 20 percent growth in a 12-month period.

"Publishers are seeing double-digit growth across the board with multimedia materials," noted Mickey in a press release.

In a nod to the trend, CourseSmart last week announced the launch of a new mobile Web app which allows access to its catalog of more than 20,000 electronic textbooks and other digital course materials on mobile devices such as the Kindle Fire and iPad.

"Our mission is to connect students and faculty with affordable course materials that they need to become successful," said Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart, in a press release. "With this new Web-based application, we are putting the world's largest catalog of eTextbooks and digital course materials in the hands of an increasingly growing number of digitally-dependent students and faculty."

Still, some experts say that it will be a while before digital textbooks become fully accepted. "Electronic textbooks will eventually be the norm," said Charlotte P. Lee, a professor at the University of Washington, who was quoted in the Times, "but it's going to be quite a bit more time than folks anticipate."

She noted that learning from digital devices can be problematic, because students are accustomed to reading, scanning and note-taking using paper textbooks. Such skills are not easily applied to electronic tablets.

"We need to design devices that are specifically made to support academic reading," she told the Times.

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman


"CourseSmart Launches First Mobile Web Application for eTextbooks," prnewswire.com, November 21, 2011

"In Higher Education, Publishers Move Into Digital Materials, Ignite Explosive Growth," marketwatch.com, November 16, 2011

"Textbooks Finally Take a Big Leap to Digital," nytimes.com, November 23, 2011, Christopher F. Schuetze

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