Holding on to textbooks in an online world?

Within days, we will have entered the third year of the second decade of the 21st Century. Most newspapers and magazines have been available on the internet for a decade. In the world of higher education today, one in three students have taken some or all of their courses over the Internet, and online degrees are becoming common among graduates in the workforce. We live in a digital age. Smartphones abound on campuses, and e-readers are affordable for just about any budget. So why, given the technology of the times, aren’t students embracing digital textbooks?

In black and white

Somewhere not far behind tuition, room and board and textbook costs are among the bigger expenses of getting an education. It’s not uncommon for a single textbook to run upwards of 200 dollars for a single course, and resale value of textbooks is only a tiny fraction of the original cost. Digital texts, however, can be purchased at a considerable savings compared to bound copies, often times costing half that of a traditional book. Renting a text, when available, is even more affordable, though access to the digital copy will likely expire soon after the course ends. With these opportunities for savings, though, why is it that students are staying away from digital books in droves with digital purchases expected to barely exceed ten percent of all purchases? Two reasons surface, though neither is exactly satisfying.

Experience and expectations

One very understandable reason why students are reluctant to use digital textbooks stems from what some might call human nature. People, so the reasoning goes, are most comfortable with what they already know. If this is the case, we’re at the beginning of a generation of future college goers who’ve spent their elementary and secondary educations holding, carrying and touching the pages of bound textbooks. Using some form of an e-reader to access even the same material found in a bound issue is a foreign experience, despite the fact that the information is exactly the same. But here’s where the issue becomes more complicated and the reasoning behind the avoidance of digital textbooks does make some logical sense.

At present, students and administrators are openly disappointed with the quality of digital texts. With all of the opportunity to be interactive and engaging in a way a traditional textbook could never be, many digital books are simply the same material as their bound counterparts, only in digital form. Students, nearly all of whom have grown up with evolving online games, smartphones and even websites have come to expect a lot from their electronic resources and that’s just as important of an experience as is their comfort with holding traditional books.

A generation thing

Necessity being the mother of invention, it is safe to say that publishers of school textbooks will and are figuring out ways to improve their products. While that’s clearly bad news for printers of books, publishers stand to gain real cost savings by transitioning more to digital products. By providing interactive experiences for students, not just those in college, but for those in primary and secondary schools, the two main reasons for which students today avoid digital textbooks may be replaced with a new habit students enjoy and embrace.