Book Smarts

By | September 19, 2011

E-books still have a hard fight ahead of them before they overtake print books, but it’s a fight they might eventually win. With Internet retailer Amazon selling more e-books than print this year, there’s a clear sign that the demand for e-books is on the rise. But for college textbooks, the fight to switch to digital is a little more complicated. The textbook industry put up major numbers with their arguably inflated prices, and a change to the paradigm could revolutionize the business, for better or worse.

Still, there’s no way to ignore the benefits of e-books in college classrooms. From possible price drops to easy access and mobility, the time will come when colleges and universities must accept—and adapt to—the electronic books in the classroom. And as the Internet makes online school and distance learning  viable alternatives to attending a traditional “brick-and-mortar” program, e-books fit perfectly into the lives of college students on the go.

The almighty dollar

Every college student has experienced that sinking feeling after receiving a class textbook list: students spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars each semester for books they’ll use for just a few months. And the sell-back prices are often just a fraction of the new or used prices charged by bookstores. Electronic textbooks could be produced for much less than their print versions—but a quick click through Amazon’s relatively small Kindle selection of textbooks reveals that prices haven’t been affected all that much. Publishers have every incentive to keep prices high, and unless instructors, school administrators and students find a way to put pressure on textbook makers, the chances of cheap e-textbooks being reality are still slim.

The new classroom?

Despite prices still being high, e-textbooks have the potential to reshape the way teachers and students interact with their texts. The versatility of a text that can be shared on computers, e-readers and tablets could allow a level of interaction that’s impossible with traditional texts.

Still, the adoption of e-texts requires that every student have a device on which to read those texts, which could put already struggling schools and students at a financial disadvantage. Further, with the frequency that new editions of texts are published, keeping a current copy of a text could cost even more money—which would benefit only the publishers.

A textbook revolution might be in the future for higher education, but there’s a host of variables that need to change before e-books become the standard on college campuses. As the world moves away from print, education will have to adjust to a new kind of text. It’s a transition that appears to be inevitable, but academia must make that transition smooth for both teachers and students.

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