• April 20, 2014

To Save Students Money, Colleges May Force a Switch to E-Textbooks

The End of the Textbook as We Know It 1

Chad Pilster for The Chronicle

Daytona State College, where Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president, uses an e-reader, is among the institutions planning a switch from paper to electronic textbooks.

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close The End of the Textbook as We Know It 1

Chad Pilster for The Chronicle

Daytona State College, where Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president, uses an e-reader, is among the institutions planning a switch from paper to electronic textbooks.

You've heard it before: Digital technologies blew up the music industry's moneymaking model, and the textbook business is next.

For years observers have predicted a coming wave of e-textbooks. But so far it just hasn't happened. One explanation for the delay is that while music fans were eager to try a new, more portable form of entertainment, students tend to be more conservative when choosing required materials for their studies. For a real disruption in the textbook market, students may have to be forced to change.

That's exactly what some companies and college leaders are now proposing. They're saying that e-textbooks should be required reading and that colleges should be the ones charging for them. It is the best way to control skyrocketing costs and may actually save the textbook industry from digital piracy, they claim. Major players like the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson, and John Wiley & Sons are getting involved.

To understand what a radical shift that would be, think about the current textbook model. Every professor expects students to have ready access to required texts, but technically, purchasing them is optional. So over the years students have improvised a range of ways to dodge buying a new copy—picking up a used textbook, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a roommate, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. Publishers collect a fee only when students buy new books, giving the companies a financial impetus to crank out updated editions whether the content needs refreshing or not.

Here's the new plan: Colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommends, just as in the old model).

Why electronic copies? Well, they're far cheaper to produce than printed texts, making a bulk purchase more feasible. By ordering books by the hundreds or thousands, colleges can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. And publishers could eliminate the used-book market and reduce incentives for students to illegally download copies as well.

Of course those who wanted to read the textbook on paper could print out the electronic version or pay an additional fee to buy an old-fashioned copy—a book.

Some for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix, already do something like this, but the practice has been rare on traditional campuses.

An Indiana company called Courseload hopes to make the model more widespread, by serving as a broker for colleges willing to impose the requirement on students. And it is not alone. The upstart publisher Flat World Knowledge recently made a bulk deal with Virginia State University's business school, and last month the company hired a new salesperson devoted entirely to "institutional sales" of its e-textbooks. And Daytona State College, in Florida, is negotiating with publishers to test a similar arrangement.

The real champions of the change are the college officials signing the deals. They say they felt compelled to act after seeing students drop out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average prices rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year far faster than inflation.

"When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong," says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. "Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent."

Apple reset the sales model for music, with its iPod players and market-leading online store, and the company is likely to try to enter the e-textbook market as well. But watch out, publishers, the change agents for textbooks may just be traditional colleges.

Moving the Tollbooth

Courseload, the e-book broker, started in 2000, when a co-founder, Mickey Levitan, a former Apple employee inspired by the company's transformative role in the music industry, devised the idea and teamed up with a professor at Indiana University at Bloomington to try it. But the company failed to find enough takers, and it all but shut down after a brief run.

Then last year an official at Indiana, Bradley C. Wheeler, called Mr. Levitan and talked him into trying again.

Mr. Wheeler is part of an effort at the university to bring down textbook costs, and he remembered a conversation he had had with Mr. Levitan about the idea 10 years ago. Back then, Mr. Wheeler was just a professor of business, but now he is also vice president for information technology and able to help try the approach, which he calls "moving the tollbooth" for textbooks.

"Universities are going to have to engage in saying, This is how we want e-textbook models to evolve that are advantageous to our students and our interests," he told me this month.

For three semesters Indiana has tested Courseload's system, which brings in content from various publishers and allows annotation and other features. So far the company has persuaded McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and John Wiley to participate. During those first experiments, students were not charged, and the university and Courseload paid for the e-textbooks. But Mr. Wheeler said that in the spring the university would try at least one pilot where students would pay a mandatory fee for the e-textbooks, which he expected to be about $35 per course in most cases.

Company and university officials gingerly approached two key groups early on: students and state legislators. Mr. Wheeler said student-government officials he talked to were supportive. Mr. Levitan said that the legislators generally opposed new fees, but sympathized with the project's goal of reducing overall costs to students and said they would not oppose it.

Mr. Levitan said the company was running tests at a handful of colleges, though he declined to name them.

The Virginia Pilot

Mirta Martin, dean of Virginia State's business school, speaks passionately about her reasons for taking part in the experiment with Flat World, which makes e-textbooks standard in eight courses this fall.

"For our accounting books senior year, there's nothing under $250," she told me this summer. "What the students were saying is, We don't have the money to purchase these books."

Last year Ms. Martin became so frustrated over hearing stories about students who were performing poorly because they could not afford textbooks that she pledged that no needy student would go without a book. At first she asked community leaders and others to donate to a fund to pay for the books of students who sought financial help. Last year that project bought $4,000 worth of books for students.

But Ms. Martin felt that the philanthropic model was not sustainable, so she began reaching out to publishers to see if the institution could get some sort of bulk rate that would allow it to pay for textbooks for all students.

In its standard model, Flat World offers free access to its textbooks while students are online. If students want to download a copy to their own computers, they must pay $24.95 for a PDF (a print edition costs about $30). But the publisher offered the Virginia State business school a bulk rate of $20 per student per course, and it will allow students at the school to download not only the digital copies but also the study guide, an audio version, or an iPad edition (a bundle that would typically cost about $100).

Tricky issues remain, though. What if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?

Proponents of the new model argue that in time policies can be developed and prices can be driven low enough to win widespread support.

If so, more changes are bound to follow. In music, the Internet reduced album sales as more people bought only the individual songs they wanted. For textbooks, that may mean letting students (or brokers at colleges) buy only the chapters they want. Or only supplementary materials like instructional videos and interactive homework problems, all delivered online.

And that really would be the end of the textbook as we know it.

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.


1. mmariesmith - October 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

My preference for textbooks or a print copy is greatly influenced by the fact that I write notes next to the text. While natural disaster is always a threat, a computer glitch is much more likely with the loss of notation and/or my e-book. I like to lie down and read and make notes in the margin. Have you tried that with a computer? How many copies am I allowed to save? I would like at least three. I have three computers. Do I get to resave it each time I add notes? Can I even do tracking in every textbook? If I buy a print book am I entitled to a refund of the e-book price? Could there be a voucher on my registration for this process? Could book stores have computer access to a list of those who have purchased the e-book, with a school id swipe and pin number/thumb print process?
My largest complaint is that the prices quoted above are not in line with used book prices of at least 50% off that keeps some students in texts. For the past seven years I bought nearly all my texts as new from recognized online text book dealers with greatly reduced prices for most. I paid an average of 20-30%. I did not purchase from individuals to avoid buying stolen books. What is the real cost to publishers of a digital textbook especially one that is a required purchase? It seems to me that prices could be drastically reduced and still make money for the author and publisher. Are the schools going to demand a cut for handling? It seems that this is another way for someone else to control the student's pursestrings. I am in favor of reducing the costs of transportation and printing to the natural resources, but not in favor of moving that money into the publisher's or university's bank account. Yes, I will buy e-books when they are in line with the real cost of online publication. Ask around about the cost of manufacturing contacts and the price you pay the optometrist.

2. duboishalb - October 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

There is a substantive difference between music and textbooks. I assume that most instructors would answer the question "What makes a good textbook?" with some reference to quality and a books role as a resource in the teaching process. Whether that quality can be produced by new entrants is not impossible, but it is a concern.

I'm also suspect of the "old guard" publishers. They're rarely on the front lines, as teachers and booksellers are, looking at shocked students eye-to-eye, the student struggling with the "value" component of their course materials purchases.

Of course, the e-readers cost money too. Other non-monetary issues are already arising in various "experiments" (I use quotes to indicate I'm not sure these trial balloons are flown with true academic vigor), challenging the e-reader format, including the ability of all to access the format physically, creating a conflict with established institutional policy and ethics.

There is also a problem with how we view "students" as being young, tech savvy, early adopters. Reliable stats show the "college student" population is much older than many predict intuitively. Somehow, we always assume that a general population, especially a "young" one, will prefer the e-solution. Not in all cases. Even this generation of students was not weaned exclusively on electronic course materials. Perhaps this suggests a hybrid, transitional solution.

Actually, I do think a centralized distribution of course materials make sense in terms of efficiency, but I'm not sure yet that it will necessarily translate into a better bottom line for students.

3. impossible_exchange - October 25, 2010 at 11:02 am

"Tricky issues remain, though. What if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate?"
What does that have to do with anything?
Is this some sort of dig at the act of assigning one's own book?
That is a jarring and wierd passage.

As for the idea that students today are more tech savy... That simply is not the case. They are more comfortable with technology but they often have little or no understanding of it.

4. rhershman - October 25, 2010 at 02:36 pm

A few questions and points that seem to be missing here:

1.) If colleges and universities have been unable to prevent even greater price increases when they switched to a similar publisher digital subscription model at libraries, what evidence exists that this can succeed here?

2.) New textbook prices are increasing, but student spending on textbooks has not been increasing. A highly competitive secondary market, buyback, rentals, ebooks, customs, POD, open source, and greater faculty awarness and efforts to address cost have helped hold the line on costs and in fact multiple surveys show student spending on textbooks is not increasing by much if anything.

3.) The suggestion that robust retail competition only forces publishers into higher prices and more frequent editions is absurd. That competition has also forced publishers to offer more lower cost custom editions, books by chapter, rental programs, loose leaf and lower frills versions, and price e-textbooks well below their costs. The financial pressures and the general economy students face outside of course materials is a major factor. Switching to a fee does not change that, other than making it mandatory that they pay it. University of Phoenix students while they get access to more content in their system, students pay about the same amount as other students on their course materials. Further, student surveys and research have shown that students are rational consumers in deciding to buy course materials, often driven by whether the faculty member uses the material or not. Students recently reported that 21% of their faculty don't use all of the material they previously assigned. Further, the American Opportunity Tax Credit combined with Pell Grants eliminates or reduces these course material costs for many students.

3.) E-textbook pricing are currently rising at the same rate as new print textbooks and they are generally priced at a level to compete with used textbooks and textbook rental programs. Further, publishers financial statements explain that print sales are subsidizing the higher investment cost of digital. What happens when the greatest source of competition over cost is eliminated AND what happens when the digital product, which is a more expensive and robust product to develop and maintain must stand on its own?

3.) About half the states that collect sales tax on course materials transactions including Indiana and Florida mentioned in this article as well as California and Texas will loose tax revenue that funds colleges and universities if the schools switch to a fee model. The Daytona example alone will cost the state and county about $1 million a year in lost revenue if the program is handled as fee. True that represents savings for students, but not without cost to state and county budgets and higher education funding that must be factored into such programs and state funding.

5. dboyles - October 25, 2010 at 04:22 pm

Cheaper than hardcopy? I have seen no lifecycle analysis on this. When people end up printing off chapters repeatedly to study from copies they can carry and write notes on, one has to question these claims. Considering the fact that most computing requires purchase of new virus protection packages, new software editions, new computer models owing to planned obsolesence of microchips, new backup strategies, flash drives, yadayadayada, the claim to cost savings is laughable. There is a reason many institutions have done away with computer laboratories for open student use: passing these excessive institutional costs to the mass of individual consumers via mobile computing is one of them. If there wasn't more value-added involved to manufacturors it is unlikely e-textbooks would even exist.

6. nyhist - October 25, 2010 at 04:39 pm

No mention is made here of different disciplines. A humanities textbook is quite different from one in physics or accounting. Often history students retain their books from one course to refer to in another. Would online access through universities allow access only during a semester's enrollment? What about following coherent arguments through entire books, or what about courses that assign a variety of monographs rather than a single text? These approaches have not been thought through carefully. Rather, they appear to be 'one size fits all.'

7. amcanrer - October 25, 2010 at 04:56 pm

I am glad to read this discussion. I would welcome e-text books, not only in colleges, but secondary schools as well (or especially). E-texts don't have to eliminate traditional books for those who want or need them. But the limitations of technology due to user error and equipment inadequacies must be addressed before technology in classrooms has overall value added.

8. 419onscene - October 25, 2010 at 05:55 pm

I have to echo some of the statements that have been made above.

Colleges have been fully complicent in allowing the textbook companies free reign in the market. Colleges have in no way made any attempts to lower costs, and have assisted the publishers in diminishing the value of purchased books by rapidly adopting the latest editions of books, often to the detriment of course structure.

I think many colleges have been doing themselves a great disservice by accepting higher prices in exchange for online course content and pregenerated test banks and LMS integration. Both colleges and students need to place significant value on the value added by course instructors, be they in person or online. If the entirety of the coure material and evaluation tools are coming from the textbook, why am I paying the college? What's preventing the textbook companies from seeking accreditation and offering credit hours for online course completion?

Currently, the only existing influencers of pricing are retailers seperate from the college. College bookstore prices are significanly higher than Amazon, Chegg, and other online retailers (and I get free 2nd day air from Amazon!). For my current semester, sourcing texts from alternative sources saved me over 30% from the college bookstore pricing. One text for example, is Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies) (Redish). the college price is $49.95 (new), $37.50 (used), and the digital version is $49.95. Amazon has the same book for $32.97, $20.99, and $29.67. Why is my college's digital version almost twice as expensive? Oh, yeah Amazon gave me a free prime membership givig me free 2nd day air delivery on most orders, and my college bookstore charges for shipping (I take classes online). And they suggest we give them MORE control?

Lastly, in many cases, college owned bookstores have either failed or been replaced by commercial operators. If college owned bookstores have already failed to be an influencing factor on pricing, why will it work now?

9. ddrhl - October 25, 2010 at 09:34 pm

While I can appreciate the previous comments (minus spelling errors), what difference does it make if a student fails to buy and read a paper text, fails to check out and read a reserved text, or fails to read an e-text (even one that is inexpensive or free)? The bigger picture is there is an incredible number of students who ignore all texts (other than text messages received during class) and expect that everything that is to be learned will be drilled during class...nothing is to be independently read, researched nor learned by the student.

10. mami0302 - October 26, 2010 at 12:02 am

It has been stated somewhat above but I think needs to be repeated more strongly: this new policy is less about the books and their prices than it is an attempt to force students to fork over the money. Some students may have enough money to buy books or e-books at reduced prices, but it could also be that some students can't buy books at ANY price--some barely have enough money to buy ramen! They should be free to pick and choose which textbooks they purchase, which they borrow/rent/etc and control who that money is going to. So buying a $2 used copy of "Hamlet" means that money doesn't go to the publisher? So what? Is this about the publisher's money or the student's money? Forcing a mandatory technology fee on students who are practicing frugality is unfair. Let the students choose, not the university and the publishers.

11. 22169082 - October 26, 2010 at 06:30 am

In my discipline, art history, etextbooks would be absurd. And don't tell me that my students can just see the images online - why make them go two places when with a textbook they have it all in one place? As a previous poster remarked, the one size fits all approach leaves a lot out - not just art history, but my students as well. All ages, national backgrounds, access to technology - all variable. Heck! I still have students who don't have a computer at home! (or a smartphone either)

12. mccoyshelley - October 26, 2010 at 09:34 am

The problem becomes the automatic fee added onto tuition. My sister ran into this in taking an online degree program. The amount they were charging for the e-textbook was more than what she would have paid for a used print textbook. What she objected to was not having the option of deciding whether to get the online version or the print version.

13. andreeact - October 26, 2010 at 10:24 am

I used e-text book and liked them. There are of course, draw backs.I too like to take notes on the side. So I printed relevant pages and took notes that way. I also downloaded chapters I needed saved them to my laptop. I would even use the highligh tool. It was easier, less clutter, and more budget friendly to use an e-text book than a traditional hard bound book.

14. rhershman - October 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

419onscene. RE: Amazon

You need to realize that in many cases increasingly Amazon is selling textbooks at below the price the publishers charge colleges and universities. A recent review found hundreds of examples of this practice. In some cases this is due to errors in their pricing inputs (which occur site wide in other sales categories), but it is also likely that Amazon is selling at below their cost to unfairly drive out competition.

Even so there are plenty of cases where Amazon's price and other online sellers prices are HIGHER than campus bookstores. The independent Florida Government Accountability Office conducted a price study and found the price difference between online sellers and campus bookstores for new textbooks was about $2.15 per title and that 17% of the titles they reviewed were lower at the campus store. Many college stores have partnered with online companies like Chegg, while others provide price competition comparisons including against Amazon on their own websites. There are hundreds of very successful colleges and universities who have tackled textbook costs with great success and have great school owned and student cooperative run bookstores.

It is also worth reminding folks Amazon also refuses to collect state and county sales tax even in cases when they have a nexus in the state. The state of Texas just sent Amazon a bill for $269 million for failure to collect applicable state sales tax. That is $269 million that was not spent by the state on education over the last few years. They are spending millions on lobbying and lawyers to fight what other online and brick and mortar businesses do without opposition.

15. collegeeducator - October 26, 2010 at 11:39 am

Thanks for the interesting comments. I wonder if we are thinking about the issue from our own perspective and history, or from the students? For those of you opposed to e-textbooks, what is your solution? What proposal do you have for the dramatic cost of books? What about faculty who require multiple textbooks and also have "recommended" books that are really required if you want to earn top marks in the class? Those are much more interesting and informative questions.

16. andechs - October 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

As a grad student at a university, I'm concerned with digital books. I have worked in the technology industry for close to 18 years, so I am a huge fan of technology, but I'm also cheap. Like anyone else, my books are expensive. But I can resell them and recoup some of the cost if I am not going to keep the book. Currently my printed text books cost about $140 each. I have several per quarter. At the end of the quarter I can average the resale for the book at around $100 per book. That is great! But e-books, for my kindle for the same book are around $120 per book. That sounds like a savings of $20 - but I can't resell the electronic copy. That is a loss to me.
While the technology has matured, I am not sold on e-books. I have the kindle reader, the reader on my Mac and on my Windows laptops. It is good for consumption, but it is difficult if I want to look at exercises at the end of chapters and then refer back to parts of the book - it just doesn't work the same. To be more useful, the Kindle reader and others must allow search and the books must be layed out better for education.
I find the argument for forced e-books to go contrary to my best interests or my desire.

17. marcustrue - October 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm

As foreign grad student, I have finished my US PHD mainly by using the library copies of the textbooks and class notes. Prices were so high that I could afford to buy only one textbook (not available from the library) - and that one I have sold back to the university bookstore (for fraction of the original price) after end of that course.

18. quasarquark - October 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Moving exclusively to digital textbooks is not feasible as many have already indicated, and that policy is anti-competitive because of the they way it is being set up. Textbooks are too expensive because of the oligopolistic structure of the industry where they compete not by price, but by advertising -- all at the expense of the students. Colleges are trying to capture some of the profits of book sells as well by signing anti-competitive agreements with bookstores that prohibit instructors from telling their students about alternative sources of textbooks. Finally, studies are showing that students do not learn as well with digital content. Printed textbooks have been around a long time because they are a superior form of transfering knowledge. The lack of competitiveness is what allowed the prices to get out of control. Traditional publishers have very high gross margins, like around 64-70%. What do they do with the rest of their profits? Flatworld Knowledge has 10.5 million in venture funding. You know they are going to raise prices significantly to pay back their investors down the road. We need more textbook providers to keep prices reasonable, and open textbooks be part of that movement because, today, anyone can publish a book for less than $100. Students and professors can create their own textbooks from open resources. Print-on-demand is cheap, too. (E.g. $38 at Amazon.com's Create Space). There are feasible alternatives to creating monopolistic power.

19. ychumanities - October 26, 2010 at 02:04 pm

The end of textbooks as we know them? Can't happen soon enough for me. Huge bricks of books, "updated" every three years for the profit of publishers rather than the benefit of students, full of static information presented in a linear organization that forces an arbitrary order and meaning on the material that may not match either my class organization or my students' learning styles. I want a platform that presents polyphony integrated with an audio example, the significance of MLK Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" with a video of the same, and anything else that will engage my students with the reality of what we are studying, instead of just a description of it.

20. chemistryprofessor - October 26, 2010 at 04:46 pm

The increase in text book price has been a concern of mine since I was a student 20+ years ago. As stated in another article one of the main problems stems from the text book industry having a captive audience that has no choice in the text book selection process. In addition to that the entire industry is out of compliance with the law (see Sec. 112 of H.R. 4137) in that they are required to provide pricing information when soliciting business. I have yet to see this information provided when I receive text book solicitations.

21. chemistryprofessor - October 26, 2010 at 04:54 pm

Someone asked for possible solutions and I have one. The entire Textbook industry is essentially subsidized by our government and our taxes, since of the tens of billions of dollars allocated to Pell grants alone annually at least half goes to the Textbook industry. One solution would require that instead of wasting these billions of dollars each year on the Textbook industry we instead offer grants to appropriate authors to produce free-access textbooks available to each and every student and instructor across the country.

22. chemistryprofessor - October 26, 2010 at 05:01 pm

10,000 Textbooks x $100,000 per author = $1billion

which is considerably smaller than the billions of dollars spent each semester (and which ultimately comes from our taxes) to prop up the Textbook industry. Also, this $1billion would not be a constantly reoccurring fee, as it is now, but instead would most likely go down to $100 million/year or less for upkeep (enough to produce/update 1,000 new textbooks each year). Of course I am not entirely certain of these figures but even if I am off by a factor of 2 or 3 or even 10 the monetary savings would still be extensive.

23. agusti - October 26, 2010 at 07:35 pm

Hear, hear #22. Right with you.

24. bwainscott - October 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Despite a lack of romance with the University of Phoenix by most on this forum, as an alumni I must offer that the ebook concept worked very well for me. An $80 resource fee each class gave me access to a passcode locked PDF copy of some pretty high quality textbooks. I could print pages/chapters if need be and carry them with me easily wherever I went to include reading them on a Palm device if necessary. As I completed classes, each one of my ebooks were retained in my own personal digital library in the school library in the event I required access to the text in future classes or even now in my everyday business life. An awesome model in my opinion.

25. halemos - October 27, 2010 at 01:12 am

It is truly sad that Universities, and the article, don't mention the pedagogical advantages of e-books. E-books enable learning in more learner-centric styles. E-books are portable in terms of lifestyle (readable on multiple devices) and are accessible in two learning modes (reading/visual, listening/auditory)... nevermind the positive environmental implications... barring misuse by way of multiple printings of a book by a single individual.

26. zaxarberkut - October 27, 2010 at 04:08 am

Dear lord, just let students purchase ebooks online as necessary. Packaging ebook and fixing fees to university courses can only drive up the cost. If E-readers become more affordable and more textbooks are printed electronically, the problem should fix itself.

27. evolve42 - October 27, 2010 at 09:22 am

Isn't it a little ironic that the article goes on about the high cost of books for the poor college student, yet mentions a cheaper ebook bundle with an iPad edition? iPads start at $500.

I recently graduated and the only students I knew buying the whole-price books from the bookstore were using the credit cards their parents pay for. I often bought my books online and then sold them again once the semester was over. Plus, if I wanted to keep any, they stayed on my bookshelf.

28. ccnorm - October 27, 2010 at 09:29 am

This hype about e-everything has gone on for several decades now and for all the dialogue, is mostly silly. For some users ebooks make sense, but colleges would have to guarantee computer access - that would require a huge investment in infrastructure not compatible with current budget constraints. Further, the music industry is a crappy model - people use books as references, they don't want the friggin publishers controlling their ownership.

29. kmellendorf - October 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

I am a physics teacher. I see many of my students with books open during labs that involve carts rolling across tables and steel balls flying from launchers. Such objects often land on the texts. Labs involving beakers of boiling water have been known to spill. Some students use their books during the labs for temporary supports during unforeseen difficulties. High voltage equipment could also be a problem. How well will an e-book viewer hold up in such an environment? They cannot use the lab computer to view the book. The disk is intentionally "frozen" and often has a program recording data from sensors and plotting the measurements as they occur. In a lab environment, a book also makes an excellent surface on which to draw or write while recording data. Depending on how a set of students chooses to set up the apparatus, room to write on the table can be difficult to find. If an affordable viewer exists that can endure a very active lab of 24 physics students, then I might endorse it for my classes.

30. moderator - October 27, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Posted for reader Ray Adams:

I would like to comment on your article entitled "To Save Students Money, Colleges May Force a Switch to E-Textbooks" in the October 29th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
As an educator, I have also recently begun looking at alternatives to the traditional textbook, and voicing these concerns to my school, YTI Career Institute (YTI).  My research began with the interest of reducing the issues my students consistently incur with each new start: late arrivals, wrong versions, wrong books.  My interest in this new methodology also appears to be in good company, as evidenced by your own article, in addition to that found in the NJ media, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/morristown_students_get_ipad_a.htmlfound.
However, my research has also revealed other issues such as the hardware platform for the e-textbook and the method of accessing such material.  Although more companies are developing competing products to the iPad, the underlying issue is how to get the content into the hands of the student for a period of time that supports their enrollment.  
Currently, CourseSmart seems to be the best source of e-textbook material from leading publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley and Sons, Cengage, and Bedford-St. Martins.  However, the issue for YTI is that our students need material throughout their enrollment, which for my program, Comptur Systems Specialist, is seven quarters or 21 months.  Through CourseSmart, material is only available either online, or as a download, both for a limited period of time. According to CourseSmart:

"Purchasing an eTextbook or eResource from CourseSmart actually means purchasing a subscription that lets you access the eTextbook or eResource for a certain period of time—180 days, 360 days, or 540 days. The subscription term will be clearly noted.  

When your subscription period is over, your Online or Downloadable eTextbook will become inaccessible. You will not have to worry about reselling the eTextbook when you have finished the course.

It is always possible to renew a subscription for an additional period of time."

Although a price break can be realized using e-textbooks, if the material is needed longer than the initial subscription period, the result can be more expensive than a traditional book.  For example, the Mike Markel text "Technical Communications," 9th ed. from Bedford/St. Martin's is currently available from CourseSmart  for $44.95 in e-textbook format, either online or as a download for 360 days.  Today (10/26/2010), the paper format is available from Amazon for approximately $46 used or $70 new.  If a student needed this material for longer than 360 days, they will have paid more than that of a traditional textbook.  Obviously, this is a hypothetical situation, however, certain paradigm shifts will have to be realized and discussed so that such changes are truly in the best interest of the student.  

As for the device used to access the e-textbooks, currently it is a platform issue, as CourseSmart appears to be catering mostly to either the Windows or Apple platforms (ie: PC, Mac and i-unameit).  Other similar devices (with appropriate-sized color displays and vivid graphics) on the market currently cannot utilize the CourseSmart bookshelf application to download books (ie: Android-based mobile or portable devices such as the Pandigital Novel ereader), and are limited to the online subscription.  Hopefully this will improve.

Thus, the issues of choices in devices to read e-textbooks, the length of time material is available, and the number of titles available for download still need to be resolved for e-textbooks to become a real alternative to traditional textbooks.  I love the idea, but some market changes, and changes in the way classes are taught are still in order.

Ray Adams
YTI Career Institute

31. lrhall - October 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I am both a professor and a student. Right now I can use the printed books I purchase as a student as reference material for the classes I teach. Would that be permissable under the e-book license? Seems to me the author found the answer to the textbook cost problem and stepped over the fact that the purchasing model can be changed without leaving paper books behind.

Colleges can create course fees and purchase paper books in bulk and supply each student with one book each. (If you lost your book, or something similar, you'd likely have to buy one on your own)

Right now with individual students buying the books they do not have any negotiating power to reduce the price.

If college systems like UCLA, UCBerkley, and all the rest of the UC's (I'm not picking on UC, just using them as an example, you could use OU and OSU from Oklahoma as well) collectively agreed on textbooks when possible that would reduce of the price of the books because the publisher can spread their fixed costs over a wider base.

I don't own an electronic book reader, and have no plans to do so. I likely won't till I'm forced to by some plan like this based on e-books. How many of us kept our books from our major courses and just sold back the ones that were for electives or liberal arts courses.

I still have my undergrad calculus book, can you do that with an e-book? I don't think so.

Rance Hall
Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, Central Community College, Kearney, NE
Graduate MIS student, Belleuve University

32. walkerst - October 27, 2010 at 01:20 pm

I find it ironic that the photo accompanying this article shows the vice-president standing in library stacks, and while many libraries are making e-readers available, we really cannot provide e-textbooks. Sure, we have lots of e-books, but when the City University of New York provided funding to its libraries one year to purchase print or electronic textbooks to try to alleviate the cost burden on students, we did extensive research and called dozens of publishers, only to learn that not a single one would work with us and make an e-textbook available using any sort of model that we could work with. Some wanted us to buy an e-copy for every student, and said only a single person could use the e-text - every student would get their own username and password, and thus the e-copy would be useless to the library after a single student used it. Others wanted to place different limits and restrictions on the book, or refused to let libraries purchase them at all. It turned out to be most unhelpful. We were able to help the students a lot, but we ended up buying mostly print textbooks, plus some packages from vendors that provided e-books that could serve as textbooks - like an electronic copy of a James Joyce novel, for example, for an English course. Until the e-textbook manufacturers get their acts together and quit being so greedy that they won't work with libraries, I personally have little interest in them.

33. mark_long - October 27, 2010 at 04:24 pm

As a publisher who runs a small book publishing operation (8-12 titles a year including both technical and academic textbooks) at a two-year technical college system in Texas, I'd add these points:

1) This article points not to the demise of the textbook as we know but, rather, the demise of the college bookstore as a middleman for textbook sales.

2)Do not expect any altruism--other than token lip service--from major textbook publishers. Textbook publishers will be willing to nominally lower prices on e-textbooks only (and only in the short term) if by cutting out discounts to college bookstores they can retain the profit margins they currently enjoy. Plus, with widepsread use of digital textbooks, they'll destoy the used book market in one fell swoop which means even more profits.

3) If textbook publishers were actually concerned about lower prices, they'd lower prices . . . but won't because it would impact the bottom line. We publish 250 page, B&W interior, softback textbooks that typically retail for $30-$50. Sure, it's made it a hard slog for us to be financially self-sustaining but our stated mission is to produce quality textbooks at prices that students can afford. This is the real deal in action, not lip service.

Mark Long
TSTC Publishing

34. vickigreshik - October 27, 2010 at 05:00 pm

As a professor, I not only require the texts for my classes, but I also USE them in class every single class period. We read short sections from them, refer to them, work problems from them, and anything else you can think of. I ask students to write additional helpful information in the margins - as it will help them when they work other problems on their own and study for exams. I have nothing against e-books but I'm just not sure they would be quite as effective for my students. I tell the students when ebooks are available and let them know an e-book is an option. But because I USE the book every day in class, this means they have to bring their computer or reader to class with them, every single class period.

No one has mentioned anywhere the studies indicating that students retain 40% less of what they read online compared to reading a physical text. I am aware that this assumes students are actually reading the physical text. And finally, I just asked a young man, 4.0 GPA, who said he would never use a ebook unless absolutely forced to (the point of the article, I guess). He said no for the same reason: he keeps all the books in his major, writes in them, and will use them to study for the CPA exam.

35. lothlorien - October 27, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I have looked into ebooks as alternatives to my college textbooks. There are a few non-starters, beginning with the ridiculous DRM that comes with most etexts. Most publishers have a model that only allows you to have the resource on one device and only allows you to have the resource for the length of the semester. In essence, you are paying for textbook rental with an extremely restricted model. In order to make the text useful, you almost have to become a pirate.

I concur with the professor above who teaches in a science lab. There are some circumstances in which you just cannot beat a traditional paper text.

Finally, a true etext needs to have value added. Things such as the ability to share notes, create your own study guides, and a much less linear approach to the text. I cannot believe that the vast majority of etexts require me to page down to a particular chapter. Have these publishers not even heard of hypertext? Why can't I just click on a chapter and jump to that place in the book directly from the book? Finally, etexts will never replace books. When you can pick up your etextbook platform and drop it from 10 feet with no ill effects (as you can with a traditional text), then we can talk. Overall, there is a long way to go for etexts to be a viable replacement for paper textbooks.

36. austinbarry - October 28, 2010 at 01:54 am

I worked at a college bookstore one summer and got to see the whole business from the other side. We used to stack the more popular textbooks Jinga style, always with the USED books at the top. One person put the new books at the top, and we all had to re-do the stack. Students brought new books only when the used books were used up, and we pretty much gave them no choice. As for the source of books, they came from distributors whose indifference to what we actually ordered would put a no-star Ebay seller to shame. When school started, it was like a cross between Black Friday and a supermarket before a major storm. One thing that struck me about the books - publishers seemed to think that textbooks were sold by weight. I've never seen heavier covers (relative to the size of the book) and some textbooks contained largely unused "filler" sections (like a physics text which included a section on BASIC programming). Ebooks would have certainly made my life easier, but I probably would have been out of a job.

I wonder what etexts would do to the "professors publishing" business. For some courses, the textbook was a collection of photocopies of collected works - mostly journal articles but a few quite obviously photocopied from books. These were produced and sold by the local copy shop for the cost of bulk photo-copying. Other professors would hand out photocopies at class (a great way of boosting attendance). That sort of thing would probably become illegal.

As for hypertext, there is always Wikipedia or the whole Internet. This might be what publishers are afraid of.

37. zachariah - October 28, 2010 at 05:59 am

I am curious where you went to school. Mine tended cost around $50-120 and if you sold it back in mint condition you might get half of that back. Any sort of blemish dog ear, crease in cover or a page, any marks, worn edges immediately cut even that miserable sale price in half. Then they restocked the used books at about 10% less than new regardless of their condition they cost the same in spite of the fact they screwed you based on damage.
Get Slim Acai

38. triumphus - October 28, 2010 at 06:24 am

I can't believe that some of those "unethical" professors who took several years to research and write a book in a field that is their specialty would actually require the students to buy the book in a course they teach. Does the author think those words, numbers, pictures, etc. just jump up on those book pages in an orderly fashion?

39. octoprof - October 28, 2010 at 08:12 am

1) e-books require a certain level of commitment to technology on the part of the students.

2) e-books presume students will be carrying laptops into every classroom. My experience shows that laptops in the classroom inhibit learning in my discipline. Students using laptops in the classroom during my class do not perform as well as those who are taking notes and working on paper.

3) Universities should not be in the business of selling books. Publishers are in that business. Universities should not be in business at all, per se.

4) While I'm a lover of the Kindle and other e-readers for pleasure reading, I do not see the advantage at all for using textbooks.

5) Books are quickly becoming an unknown media to adults. Is that a good thing? I think not.

6) Show me some research that supports this model and it's efficacy in improving learning, particularly in disciplines like accounting or mathematics or physics or .

I'm all for the use of technology that enhances learning. This is not an example of that.

40. octoprof - October 28, 2010 at 08:16 am

7) If the e-book is being read on a computer or iPad, how quickly are students going to get eye-fatigue from reading the lit display? I can look at my Kindle for hours but the computer for hours, just reading black text on a white background? Ick.

41. cehaile - October 28, 2010 at 08:41 am

There is no doubt that the use of e-texts will grow, but colleges acting as e-textbook intermediaries is a bad idea. We have no core competency in this area and will only add cost to the students' final price (we'll have to get a margin too, you know). And where are the employees (administrative) who will do all this work? Save your money and hire a faculty member.

42. austinbarry - October 28, 2010 at 09:23 am

7) I assume that ebooks would be deployed on a Kindle or similar dedicated eyestrain-free reader (publishers probably wouldn't allow their texts onto a garden-variety PC), and that students would use an old-fashioned paper notepad (or laptop for the underachievers) to take notes on. The ebook reader then becomes a rather expensive purchase before any ebooks have been purchased (and while printed books have been around for centuries, several generations of ebook readers might come out while the student was at college).

One note about selling books back to the bookstore. For some books which MIGHT be used again, the bookstore would hold on to these in a storage room (known as the dungeon) for eventual future use. Others were sold to distributors so students were buying at the top of the food chain and selling into the bottom of the food chain. This was a factor in the buyback price, and some books ended up being worth nothing. A better option was always selling to another student.

43. cprender1 - October 28, 2010 at 09:34 am

1). Print is going away whether you would like it to or not.
2). Content still costs, no matter what; intellectual property rights of authors need to be respected.
3). Infrastructure is a problem. Universities need to have hardware to deploy content in class.
4). Profs have always required their own texts in class.
5). Etexts are being used in hundreds if not thousands of classes already.
6). Right now students buy an access code card in the book store, for which the book store takes a cut (at my U, bookstore wanted 18% for said card).
7). Universities have been selling their own content for ages.
8). Rented texts are a goldmine for the bookstores.
9). An ebook is not an ebook is not an ebook. We imagine now just print online, but links to video/audio content changes things immeasurably and will change the way we teach. Which is a GREAT thing. Yay #19.
10). I take notes in my ebook all the time. Almost all formats have that feature now.
11). In most of these comments, it seems that most people are worried, but haven't had much experience reading/working with/buying/writing/selling ebooks. Much more informed dialogues are going on in twitter between publishers, authors, educators, etc. who see that these changes are happening, and considering how best they should be made.

44. nfknapp - October 28, 2010 at 09:49 am

No one has yet mentioned a major reason I don't like e-books, and that is that students cannot bring them to class to refer to during class discussions and activities/ Many of my students don't have laptops or netbooks, and even if they did, all those open laptops would tend to kill student interaction and tempt students to update Facebook, read email, etc., instead of focusing on class. I guess it would be fine if all one did in class was lecture--students could pay attention or not as they chose, without affecting any one else; but my classes use in-class case studies, simulations, and other activities which require or encourage reference back to the text. I don't see how e-books would work in that environment.

45. austinbarry - October 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

Print is going away? even vinyl records are coming back.

46. cprender1 - October 28, 2010 at 10:07 am

Yes, there will always be a niche market for print, but we're not talking about niche markets.

This discussion thread illustrates the extent to which academics haven't been thinking about the material conditions of their pedagogical work. Ebooks are confused with ereaders, (not the same), assertions are made about what can and can't be done with them that are not true, the actual chain of production, delivery, and supply is imagined in ways it does not exist. So we have fertile ground for research going forward.

This is a major shift. It is like Guttenberg. It is changing things faster than we may be comfortable with or prepared for. Let's all find out five facts we didn't know about this issue for starters.

47. quagga - October 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

As a faculty member in the sciences, I'd add two comments:

1. It seems that the only "problem" with textbook publishing is that technology (especially including web-based textbook resale) is making it harder for publishers to maintain high profits. Their response, which is to constantly revise and update textbooks (including introductory physics & chemistry textbooks), is incredibly costly and wasteful. The inevitable solution is that we will switch to free, nearly free, or even open-source textbooks and cut the publishers out of the loop. The fact is that many academics are perfectly willing to produce good materials in exchange for recognition. Self-publishing is now inexpensive and easy. We don't have a robust, universal, & quality-controlled system for making this switch yet, but it is coming.

2. With regards to E-books vs hard copies, the problem is that the medium is the message. The message of the E-book medium is that technology allows you to "multitask", or cycle rapidly between thinking about your coursework, checking blog posts, and updating your Facebook status. But the message of the paper textbook is that you need to sit down quietly, read, and think. I think the latter message closer to what most university faculty would like to say to their students, and that's why there is a lot of resistance to assigning E-books.

48. wesleyan - October 28, 2010 at 10:46 am

I love the assumption that all students either have the technology necessary to use ebooks or that colleges have the resources (especially the IT people) to see that students have the equipment and can use it. This also assumes that all materials an instructor might want to use for a class are available in electronic format. I find ebooks hard on the eyes after awhile. I think that that textbook providers are risking having more professors abandon textbooks altogether and developing their own course materials as some already do. Making textbooks available in both print and electronic format still appears to be the best option.

49. petrella - October 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

The issue of e-books is a very interesting one for those of us in the international sector. There are many American Universities abroad and I wonder how we will cope in a world without textBOOKS. In our courses, we use many of the same textbooks that are used in US classes, but the cost of the book plus international shipping has to be factored into the total price. The logistics of shipping to Paris or Rome is one thing; but to Kabul, Bishkek or Yola, Nigeria the issue becomes far more complex.
It is very difficult for students in some of these countries to raise money for tuition so when textbook prices reach $140 per book, as andechs reported, purchasing the text isn't even an option. This isn't to suggest that tuition costs don't pose a problem for US students, but there are no student loan programs here and rarely is there a family member with money to help with school costs.
For the first few years at the American University of Afghanistan, our classes survived by returning to the system that the Public Schools used when I was an elementary student in the 1950s, distribute textbooks to everyone in the class to use for the term, collect them at the end of the term and distribute the same books again the following term. The problem we encountered is that students learning in a second language tend to write in the margins much more than students in the US do...simply because they need to look up far more academic terms than their US counterparts. Margins were filled with notations and after the second, third or fourth student to use the text made his or her notes, the pages were nearly illegible.
E-books would partially solve the problem here but we would have to find a method of getting the file to students through other means, as the bandwidth required to download them simply isn't available. E-readers aren't practical here and electricity is still sporadic. Most students do not have a laptop, or even a desktop machine available to them so textbooks on CD or DVD isn't a solution. Realistically, the only reliable technology that will work in some of our schools abroad is a book.

50. feudi - October 28, 2010 at 11:19 am

E-book technology is still in it's infancy, but holds great promise to reduce cost for students. E-books have the ability to embed hyperlinks into the page to give the student a deeper, more meaningful way to study. With a mouse click you can access the source material for foonotes, and other cogent writings on the subject you are learning. Students footnotes can also be embedded within the text for later reference. I'm sure they will eventually add other apps to e-books such the ability to email the instructor, to file homework, etc.
We can still have the paper option for those who prefer it, but e-books do appear to be a good alternative that will grow as cost goes down.

51. feudi - October 28, 2010 at 11:25 am

Another unique feature of ebooks could be the ability to translate text from one language to another. The Google translation app could be built into the e-reader so students could access material written in a non-native language and translate it into their own linguage. The google translator is getting better and better and this feature could reduce the Babel, so to speak.

52. softshellcrab - October 28, 2010 at 11:29 am

Print will never go away, because it is the only way to go for serious students. Ebooks are just an excuse for a book, being able to say there is one where there really is not much of one. Very few students can seriously truly study an ebook, it is for students who either won't read it anyway or will read it only in a cursory way, or to look up answers for open book exams.

Look at who already embraces them. The article notes "Some for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix, already do something like this, but the practice has been rare on traditional campuses."

No... really? For-profit schools providing a garbage, pretend-education once again? The same people who were caught recruiting homeless alcoholics to sign up for Phoenix classes and to borrow federal funds to pay for them? Blows all my theories about how things are in higher education...

So much of higher education today is just a big fake system of selling degrees.

53. panacea - October 28, 2010 at 02:19 pm

@#36 austinberry: You said, "wonder what etexts would do to the "professors publishing" business. For some courses, the textbook was a collection of photocopies of collected works - mostly journal articles but a few quite obviously photocopied from books. These were produced and sold by the local copy shop for the cost of bulk photo-copying. Other professors would hand out photocopies at class (a great way of boosting attendance). That sort of thing would probably become illegal."

It is already illegal. That does not fall within the category of fair use.

I'm not a fan of ebooks for pragmatic reasons: expense and value being the highest.

I teach nursing. A rep from Elsivier told me just last week that ebook versions of their nursing texts for either iPad or Kindle were already available . . . for 80% of the cost of a printed book.

WTF? Transitioning a book from the file format used for publication to another file format is EASY, and they still want to charge those kinds of prices? ebooks are not competitive in price with a real text book, and until they are, I'm not interested.

I do see the potential of ebooks to cut out the college bookstore middleman, as someone else noted. However, from what I read in this gushing article, the college will replace the bookstore (with its 40% markups over list price) with another middle man. No cost savings there.

I had a student come to me at the beginning of the semester asking about the assigned text for my nursing class. She couldn't afford the astronomical fee being charged (almost $500). She bought it for a fraction of the cost on Amazon on my suggestion.

As for the University of Phoenix: the resources I bought from them were the biggest waste of money I have ever seen, and half the time the profs didn't even use them. I quit buying them after one bad course. Other texts chosen by UoP were good for holding my pizza, but not much else.

Someone mentioned an open sourced approach. Works for me!

54. thirtyeyes - October 28, 2010 at 03:48 pm

1. The biggest error in the book world is people who think the cost of the book involves the cost of the paper and the ink. A digital book today is being susidized by the print book. Creation costs such as development, author fees, editing fees, layout fees and marketing costs such as sample copies, field representatives, and ancillary materials are the much larger costs involved in a textbook.

2. Transitioning a print book file to a digital book file might seem easy, but it really is not. It is a process that requires a lot of person hours to ensure that the digital format is accurate and conforms to the destination format and DRM. Anyone who's done much Kindle reading can attest to the numerous typos. This transformation requires payroll and technology that is not supported by a good deal of digital sales revenue.

3. All of the major textbook publishers are public, for profit companies. Maybe you own stock in some of these companies? Need we say more?

4. If you cut the bookstore out of the middle you are going to have to replace them with university staff or send your students on a digital scavenger hunt. One of the biggest jobs a bookstore does is trying to figure out which books will be used by which faculty. If we were to look over a few syllabi we would conclude that many faculty are not very good at describing their books.

55. 11319762 - October 28, 2010 at 04:50 pm

$24.95 for a PDF file of a $30 book is even more outrageous than the price for the printed copy. What was the student paying $24.95 for? Paper? No. Ink? No. Union printers' wages? No. Shipping and Handling? No. The bookstore's overhead? No.

The only expenses are the author's royalty (a couple of dollars if s/he is lucky, a couple of dollars for the publisher's data storage and e-mailing expense, a couple of dollars profit for the publisher, and a couple of dollars profit for the university/bookstore. That is about $8 total for the e-book, meaning that there is about $17 of economic rent here.

Economic rent is a polite way of saying unearned profit, otherwise known as theft.

56. thirtyeyes - October 28, 2010 at 07:12 pm

Again, just where do you suppose the book came from? Did it materialize out of air? Someone wrote it, someone edited it, someone created marketing material for it, someone created test banks for it, someone created lecture powerpoints for it, someone mailed out thousands of free, review copies, someone convinced a professor to use it, Someone re-formated the original printer file into a digital eBook file.

The cost of developing and selling the book is covered by the income from selling the print version, the foreign market print version, the audio version, the eBook version.

57. cprender1 - October 28, 2010 at 07:21 pm

I am truy mystified that people think of ebooks as some conspiracy on the part of publishers. Having written my own ebook, and taken publication of it inhouse (in the university) due to publishers' inability to conceptualize or support an ebook, I can tell you, tey are playing catch up. They are just as intrenched in their own old marketing models as you can imagine. And they are bleeding. The last publishing rep I met with (still friendly, but no longer using their product) said "I don't know how much longer I'll have a job."

There's no conspiracy: Just a new paradigm that every is struggling to understand. It's not going away because the technology exists, and all kinds of people are using it on a grassroots level. Look at all the self-publishing sites out there. The textbook is the last fronteir of ebooks, not the first (consider, this conversation we are having online, not in letters to the editor that take two weeks to print and then disperse).

58. cprender1 - October 28, 2010 at 07:29 pm

Of course, I do miss the proofreading editors do. Sorry for all the typos!

59. fergbutt - October 28, 2010 at 08:12 pm

The obvious solution to this problem has been around for decades, yet no one has mentioned it. The teacher obtains a second desk copy, which is not hard to do if you just ask. Put the second copy on closed-reserve at the college library circulation desk. The industrious student will find a path to the photocopy machine, which will generate a quick copy of the assigned reading (a little at a time, or all at once, at amazing savings over the purchase price, although maybe not as efficient as renting from chegg.com). Even the honest student will have a way to view the book for free, when it's available for two-hour loan at the library (which makes a tidy profit on selling 5 cent copies for a dime).

60. austinbarry - October 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

#59 That's stretching "fair use" well beyond it's limit. I suppose the modern (and cheaper) way would be to bring a laptop and a scanner into the library and scan the relevant pages with the advantage that most scanners will scan in color while most 10 cent photo copies are black-and-white (or, more typically, smudged streaky light gray on white). An added advantage is because scanners are so incredibly slow, but usually display a readable "preview" image as they whir and grind through a page, students would actually have no choice but to read the assigned reading v e r y s l o w l y.

61. 11233028 - October 29, 2010 at 09:08 am

While the publishers are trying to get rid of paper, bookstores, libraries, used books, and any cost to them, let's gid rid of the publishers. It just takes a few "bookstore" websites, authors willing to put their textbooks on the site for sale, a way to download, and a way to pay--walaa!! Money goes directly to the author(wow, they can get real pay for their work!)and students will definitely get a cheaper price.Plus faculty, can have special codes to preview. Yay, no more publishers!

62. sages - October 29, 2010 at 09:28 am

"Let's get rid of publishers...": I totally agree with the sentiment. I have successfully published to textbooks would Lulu.com. I highly recommend it.

63. sages - October 29, 2010 at 09:30 am

"Let's get rid of publishers...": I totally agree with this sentiment. I have successfully published two textbooks with Lulu.com. I highly recommend it.

64. cprender1 - October 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Of possible interest to people still checking into this thread:
Amazon third quarter earnings jumped by 39%, yet its stock dropped. Why? Because of books. Huh? http://tinyurl.com/343mbag

If you're on twitter and interested in learning more about these issues, I suggest following @ereads, @DigiBookWorld, @rww, @duolit, and @EbookNoir as well as use #dbw on tweets. We need more educators in these discussions!

65. impendia - October 30, 2010 at 02:45 am

So as a math instructor, I can testify that above the calculus level (where there are typically lots of color pictures, etc.) it is *easy* for any professor to typeset his or her own book from scratch. Top quality typesetting software is ubiquitous, open-source, and completely free.

I am confused about one aspect of the e-books debate. It seems to involve traditional publishers selling electronic documents at prices that are still quite high. Yet why do we need the publishers at all? There is something nice about having a printed copy of a book, but if we don't need that, then no reason to pay off one of the big publishing houses for acting essentially as a gatekeeper.

66. neylane - October 30, 2010 at 08:26 am

For years observers have predicted a coming wave of e-textbooks. But so far it just hasn't happened. One explanation for the delay is that while music fans were eager to try a new, more portable form of entertainment, students tend to be more conservative when choosing required materials for their studies. For a real disruption in the textbook market, students may have to be forced to change.


67. menelaos - October 31, 2010 at 04:13 pm

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68. martinrayala - November 01, 2010 at 03:23 pm

Many of the comments defending printed books over the electronic versions are expectedly quaint and amusing.

Electronic books are cheaper than printed ones. Students will not end up printing off chapters repeatedly to study from copies they can carry and write notes on. The readers have much better systems for annotating text and taking notes - and are easier to carry that a printed out chapter.

The students will carry lightweight readers and not use computers to read books so concerns about the purchase of new virus protection packages, new software editions, new computer models owing to planned obsolesence of microchips, new backup strategies, flash drives, yadayadayada, are laughable.

E-books exist despite the publishers, not because of them. Publishers are fighting e-books because it disrupts traditional business models. Many are slowly seeing how to adjust to reality.

E-book readers are easier to read in bed than traditional books. The quaint idea of comparing reading a book in bed to having a computer in bed with you is charmingly senile. E-books aren't read on desktop computers.

So many of the comments in support of traditional textbooks are simply charming anachronisms - well worth preserving for a few chuckles in the coming years but a little unsettling to see how out of touch and out of step with contemporary trends we are.

69. penntext - November 02, 2010 at 01:39 pm

They must maintain competition and options for students. The move to digital must maintain free choice, not forced! We need competition to keep pricing honest...even digitally!

70. mkfish - November 07, 2010 at 12:20 pm

A common objection to e-books is that it's easier to annotate and otherwise mark-up a traditional text than an e-text. This leads to the larger question of the extent to which physical symbol making, an ancient skill, plays a role in memory and learning.

Common sofware allows annotation of pdf documents, but typically by typing and not by hand annotation. Possibly the learning and thinking benefits of physical symbol making could be fully realized even if the physical movements were immediately converted into standard characters?

Has the relationship between physical symbol making and learning been researched ?

71. joechill - November 11, 2010 at 11:04 am

So what studies have been done in reading comprehension for the different platforms (print and digitial)? This article just focuses on the cost.

72. jes521 - November 14, 2010 at 04:27 am

A personal experience of one young woman's true life experience with being forced to pay maximum retail price of traditional educational textbooks but having the fee provide only limited access to single pages of non-printable online content in a poor quality required program. For less than six weeks.

Note: These particular courses were intense, condensed courses over a total period of only 5 and 1/2 weeks - a minimum of $25.00 per week is the minimum amount every student had to pay (on top of the additional $200.00 per course "technology fees"). For ONE course.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division charges a mandetory fee of $200 for technology fees and mandates the e-texts. There is no choice and the prices are the same as the physical print edition. The reader we must use (no choice again) does not allow for multiple page viewing, prohibits printing of the book by simply eliminating the option, and inconveniently logs users out in after a period of time which is far from generous and makes period of writing notes or materials which may have been promplted by the page being read, inconvenient, distracting (I'm all the while consumed by a ticking clock timer in the back of my mind).

One example is the textbook for my design history course which I was automatically charged $85.00 for the mandatory access of the e-textbook. I wasn't upset about the price, just shocked. Then when I discovered the limited, ineffectiveness of the program, I was frustrated. I attempted to cut and past or hand type several chapters in order to print them, but aside from the printing materials required (lots of ink cartride replacing and paper tray refreshing), the substantial amount of time was the most costly resource. My career is about using time as efficiently as possible to increase my time's financial value, and this definitely equated to another notable fee. I ended up ordering the text and despite my previous investment and efforts spent on the e-textbook, I found it worth the additional $90.00.

It ended up being a wonderful book which I often reference! However, subsequent texts and courses are really adding up. Investing in education is something I do for myself and have no complaints. The e-textbook situation is a shameless example of excessive pricing and prohibiting consumer access to the priciple acheived by a free market. Further, such practices applied to a business reliant upon government funding and financial institution affiliations (grants, financial aid, government sponsored scholarships, private and government student loans student loans, and so on).

The textbook I first mentioned which was about $90.00 is available at Amazon and textbook e-stores with an emphasis on educational materials/books for less than half the price on "slightly used" or "like new" and "good condition" descriptions with a guarantee to offer a set amount of money (minimum) should you want to sell it after your course. I've also since seen brand new copies around $75.00 nearly all offer free shipping, some no tax, and textbook e-stores generally provide return postage and packaging as well.

I will end my rant after this chunk, I promise. The value in print version textbooks: ability of unlimited future references, ability to flip from one chapter to another and then even to the index, quickly for easier, fast, accurate comparison, portable with instant start up upon opening the cover (no electronic requirements, hardware, forced e-book program installation upon which the materis is dependent, highlighting, flagging or dog-earing pages, note taking and summarizing with page flipping as needed, and being able to read the materials at the beach in the relaxing sand, under the sun, in a park, at Grandma's house whose technology advancements ended with the rotary telephone... and actually getting to use the purchase in my personal choice of methods, efficient and conducive for how I learn best. Oh, the resulting side effect is maximizing the amount of knowledge and value of my education.

For anybody who suffered through this post of no benefit but to my self pitty, thank you for hearing me out and letting me provide documented evidence of my inability to connect logic with real-world situations and life in general.

73. jes521 - November 14, 2010 at 04:38 am

The registration fee for the course was a fee of approximately $1,500.00 exclusive of any software programs, equipment, and other various required supplies.

74. gsawpenny - November 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

I find it comical that most posters on this page would rant and rave if their college upped their carbon footprint by 2% but are more than happy to have the paper industry, printing industry, and trucking industry continue to pollute so they can cling to their legacy pages.

Even as an older scholar I can see that the text book is fast dying and the e-book will be the future. Besides, updates will be easier and scholarship will be more readily available.

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