eTextbooks: Are They the Real Deal?

By: Staff Writer

As more college and university courses continue head to online, are e-textbooks the next big thing in online learning?

eTextbooks:  Are They the Real Deal?

About 27 percent of college students think that the most important thing in their bags are their laptop computers. Only about 10 percent think that their textbooks are the most important things. Meanwhile, IPads, Kindles, other touchpad tablets, and smart phones are selling so fast that some stores can’t even keep them in stock. Naturally, e-textbooks are following this digital trend and dominating textbook sales across campuses, right? To borrow a phrase from a popular sports caster, not so fast, my friend!

According to Simba Information, in the next two years e-textbook revenues will reach just $585.4 million, which is estimated to be about 11 percent of all higher education and career-oriented textbook sales. While this is a noteworthy percentage of textbooks, it doesn’t come close to comparing with the proportionate sales of digital devices which could be used to pay for, download, and read e-textbooks. The question then becomes: Why? Are e-textbooks the real deal? There are several answers to those questions, which are all discussed below.

Price

Most people would think that the savings in production costs and delivery would drive down the cost of e-textbooks dramatically when compared to their dead tree counterparts. Well, most people would be wrong.

“About 90 percent of the time, the cheapest option is still to buy a used book and then resell that book,” says Jonathan Robinson, founder of FreeTextbooks.com, an online retailer of discount books. “That is really an obstacle for widespread adoption (of e-textbooks), because smarter consumers realize that and are not going to leap into the digital movement until the pricing evens out.”

Despite the savings of delivering an e-textbook to a student compared to a hardcopy textbook, e-textbook publishers are keeping prices relatively high. Some e-textbook publishers boast of 60 percent savings when compared to new print textbooks, but when you consider the fact that students can’t sell these books or even lend them to friends and classmates due to copy write and sharing restrictions, that 60 percent savings is really a 10 percent actual loss. In fact, some of these “purchases” actually act more like rentals, because students lose the right to use them after just six months.

Compatibility

Another challenge that the e-textbook market faces is the issue of compatibility. As publishers aim to make e-textbooks a more complete experience with audio and visual content, the issue of compatibility will undoubtedly become even more of an issue. Just because you can view everything fine on your PC laptop doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to view it on your Ipad or Kindle. Even if you do purchase an e-textbook and it is perfectly viewable from your electronic device of choice, will you have to have an internet connection in order to view it? These are all issues that e-textbook publishers are faced with when trying to meet the demands of students.

Some e-textbooks offer free trials, which will allow students to view these textbooks on a limited basis. Usually it involves a very small time frame and/or limited chapters. It’s a reasonable solution, except for the fact that there will be some students who won’t want to enter in all of their purchase information just to make sure that the e-textbook is going to serve their needs.

Piracy

While the laws and regulations that have been put into place to protect against media piracy over the last decade have helped to reduce piracy by a large margin, it is still an area of concern for the e-textbook market. One student from the City College of New York has been quoted as saying that he pirates every single text book that he can, which is about half of them. Students are able to get these pirated versions of e-textbooks through downloading them via bittorrent sharing or through online forums.

Even with all of these issues that still need to be ironed out in the e-textbook market, the e-textbook revolution is almost inevitable. It may not be occurring as fast as some students or market experts expected, but its day will come. It will take some time to integrate into the mainstream academia, but as platforms get better, as issues get ironed out, and as old school thought gets replaced by new school thought, e-books will dominate the textbook market. If you don’t believe me, just ask the newspaper editors.

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