Textbook prices continue to rise dramatically, and e-textbooks look to be the rising alternative as technology continues to improve.
One alternative to printed textbooks that keeps popping up is e-textbooks. Ever since the invention of digital readers such as the Kindle or Nook, tech experts have tried to anticipate when e-textbooks would take off. The fact is, they haven’t. This can be attributed to the lack of volume of textbooks available and resistance from book publishers to convert.
While few students use e-textbooks, it does not mean there is a lack of interest. As a part of the Indiana University’s eTexts Initiative, 60 percent of surveyed students said they preferred e-textbooks to hard copies and that the ease of use of e-textbooks was just as important as price.
The Indiana survey closely resembles students’ opinions at Drake.
While price was the most important factor to Drake students, they certainly would prefer to use their iPads, Kindles, etc., if they were able.
Student Body President Greg Larson recently bought an e-reader and was ready to buy textbooks on it.
“I bought it and was all excited to get my textbooks on it,” said Larson. “However, when I got looking, I was surprised by how few there are out there. They are cheaper, but they didn’t have the ones I needed. It was disappointing.”
Numerous colleges across the United States have begun to look at and experiment with e-textbooks.
Indiana launched its eTexts Initiative at one of its campuses and is developing a model for universities to follow when transitioning to e-textbooks.
According to a presentation by Indiana, e-textbooks are approximately 75 percent of a textbook’s original price. One of the main reasons for this is because the publishers are charging for a one-time use with e-textbooks. Indiana solved this by signing deals with five publishers to provide the university with e-textbooks, and the university established a database for those books for the students to access. The university then charged students a fee to use each book each semester, which lowered textbook prices drastically as it spread the costs for the books over several years.
Ann Kovalchick, Drake’s chief information technology officer, has examined the e-textbook idea and Indiana’s approach. She plans to present the idea to the faculty and administration as soon as next semester and sees Drake doing something similar.
“I see having some sort of database, whether it’s like iTunes or Blackboard, that students can access easily,” said Kovalchick. “I want to be able to distribute content to students in a way that is device independent since it’s just not feasible to distribute iPads or Kindle’s to every student.”
Kovalchick cited several potential problems with instituting e-textbooks. First is resistance from faculty. While she believes that the majority of faculty would accept the change and adapt, there is always the possibility of some not welcoming it.
Copyright problems are another issue, and the obvious resistance from publishers, but perhaps the most pressing problem is Drake’s size. Drake is not large enough to leverage publishers to allow Drake to implement this sort of system.
Kovalchick sees Drake joining some sort of consortium or allying with other smaller Iowa colleges to leverage publishers into dealing with them.
The issue of textbook prices and e-textbooks has not been brought up before the administration or Student Senate.
Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari said that he believes that things must change.
“It is only a matter of time until more and more universities move towards e-textbooks,” said Bakari. “If Drake wants to stay competitive and relevant, then we will have to move in that direction as well.”
Katie Wilz, the manager of the University Bookstore, said that the bookstore will have to adapt in order to survive.
“I can see the bookstore becoming kind of like an app store, almost like an iTunes since universities will still want their operations centralized,” said Wilz.
For the last two decades textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation, according to a 2005 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The National Association of College Bookstores found that college students spent an average of over $650 on textbooks for 2008-09.
As textbook prices keep rising, students are starting to feel the pinch on their wallets. Schools try to keep textbook prices down by selling used books and putting rental systems in place (steps that Drake also takes), but even then, students still spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks.
One of the most frequently asked questions that bookstores receive is why are textbook prices so high? The common misconception is that bookstores make a large profit selling textbooks, but according to the NACB, this is not the case. On average, 77 cents out of every dollar made by bookstores goes to the textbook’s wholesale cost (the cost of printing, editing, salaries, etc.). Bookstores only make three to four cents of profit per dollar. The rest goes toward paying bookstore workers, shipping and other expenses.