Digital textbooks threaten existence of paper books

Mark Schierbecker
Staff Writer

Technology conquered the postal service, overtook the music industry and annihilated privacy through online social networks like Facebook.

Now the same enterprise that replaced chalkboards with Smart Boards wants to take on textbooks.

Students can expect to pay over $1,100 on textbooks for a four-year public college, according to A Government Accountability Office study shows textbook costs have increased at double the rate of inflation over the past 20 years.

Part of the problem is because publishers don’t make revenue from used book sales, they regularly print somewhat redundant new editions of textbooks. Many colleges require the most recent edition so students must buy the new book instead of a cheaper used edition.

Computer makers think they have the solution: digital textbooks. Digital textbooks (or eTextbooks) have been around for years but have been impractical due to lackluster growth in suitable hardware and lukewarm consumer reception.

Then in March 2010, Apple introduced the iPad which became the most successful tablet design ever sold.

Digital textbook subscriptions can be sold in bulk to colleges where they are distributed at a reduced price to students. Unlike students, colleges have the buying power leverage to negotiate prices down to acceptable levels.

“I do really like the idea of iPads taking over where textbooks left off. They’re heavy, and kids are breaking their backs walking around with these ridiculous sets of six books,” said David Schuster, physics teacher.

Tablet computers already have a foothold in educational institutions. Teachers in some secondary schools integrate tablets full-time in the classroom. iPads are also popping up in college lecture rooms where they are used as lighter alternatives to clunky laptops.

Digital textbooks have not been able to gain much ground against their paper counterparts, however. Tablet reception has been somewhat muted in students who use books for coursework. Books provide a more tangible experience for some.

“In college, kids can write all over their books. That’s really nice,” said Schuster.

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