CourseSmart, which sells electronic versions of textbooks by major publishers, issued a statement this week defending its model, after a report by a student advocacy group said publishers were off track with their online offerings.
The report was released this week by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a collection of independent statewide organizations representing college students. The report said that online textbooks generally cost about the same as printed ones, even though the CourseSmart Web site says that online textbooks save students up to 50 percent. In making the claim, the report’s authors figured that many students sell printed textbooks back to the bookstore after a semester, recouping some of the initial cost. Books bought through CourseSmart expire after a set number of days so that they cannot be resold.
But officials for CourseSmart say that even if the money students make from reselling print textbooks is taken into account, the company’s online textbooks are still significantly cheaper. Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart, said in an interview that a student could expect to save about $15 by buying an online version of a textbook that would have cost $100 in printed form, even if resale is considered. And Mr. Devine pointed out that many students do not resell their textbooks.
Mr. Devine also defended CourseSmart’s limitations on printing and on how long users can access a book. “That’s not an unusual restriction at all” for a publisher online, he said.
“We find that the students who purchase from us have a very, very high satisfaction rate,” he said, adding that tens of thousands of students have bought its books.
He said that online textbooks are still in an early phase of development, and that CourseSmart would likely evolve over time. “We think we have a fair product in the marketplace right now, and we’re getting student feedback about how we can make it better,” he said.—Jeffrey R. Young