Digital textbooks are taking the weight off students’ backs
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 00:06
For some college students, lugging around a backpack full of books has become a thing of the past.
Digital textbooks are gaining popularity on college campuses across the country. In response, publishers have begun testing the waters for a potential market. Several independent research studies have confirmed that e-book use is on the rise.
But can digital textbooks become a university standard?
In the fall of 2011, students in Advertising 409 organized a research survey to gauge students’ interest in e-readers. Most of the anonymous respondents purchased e-readers for portability.
"It was much easier than carrying around three to four books," said one respondent. Others had accessibility in mind.
"The price of books has continually gone up, and with bookstores in my area closing, the Kindle was the logical choice," said another individual.
Publishers are very interested in understanding the e-reader market. In March 2011, the research division of the National Association of College Stores published a survey of 655 students across the nation.
The report revealed a 6 percent increase in e-textbook purchases compared to an October 2010 study.
Print textbooks still reign as the preferred choice among college students. 75 percent of students in the study preferred printed textbooks.
"Although the vast majority of students still do not own a dedicated e-reader, this is a significant jump in five short months," said NACS Chief of planning and research Julie Traylor in a press release.
This report is one of many touting increases in e-book interest. The libraries at The University of Rochester began offering e-readers for loan. Within two weeks, there were six-month waiting lists on all the 10 devices owned by the library.
But do these reports of e-book fervor signal an evolving textbook market?
Dr. John Jones, assistant professor of English at WVU, specializes in digital communication. He thinks the possibility of an e-textbook future is marred by legal constraints.
"The problem with a lot of e-books is they limit your ability to do natural things," he said. Most e-readers do not permit copying and pasting of text. Jones believes these are crucial parts of digital notetaking.
"The whole point of having text on a screen is so you can copy and paste it," he said.
Several copyright and legal limits apply to e-book users. For example, e-book purchasers don’t actually own the book; they own a license to read the e-book. Often, e-books are made for one specific type of reader. Jones said this is done to prevent students from sharing e-books and reselling used physical books.
"Textbook publishers love this. With digital textbooks, they’ve solved the problem, because you don’t actually own the textbook," he said.
Jones said there is a flipside to e-books, however.
"I think there’s a lot of promise. We’ll be able to integrate lots of media such as video, images, and audio into textbooks," he said.
Jones believes that if universities worked to make e-books effective, they could become revolutionary learning resources.
"I would get universities, instead of supporting the ecosystems of publishers, make e-books that are provided by the university and are available to all students for a nominal fee," he said.
Such projects already exist. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has become famous for its OpenCourseWare project, where all textbooks, class lectures, and study materials are put online for free. Could this be possible at WVU?
Troy Washam, a junior political science student at WVU, feels like e-readers are convenient.
"They’re definitely a better alternative to charging hundreds of dollars for textbooks," he said.
Another student, David LaClair, is a computer science student who works at Staples and sells e-readers to customers.
"Since the Kindle Fire came out, I’ve had one person buy it mainly for textbooks," he said.
The future of e-books at WVU is still uncertain, but Jones thinks the university can adopt a new textbook system.
"This is one of the things universities with more resources can do. The ecosystem is going to change," he said.