Skyrocketing textbook costs and the migration to all things digital are conspiring to usher in an era of digital textbooks.
The average estimated cost of books and supplies for a first-time, full-time student at a four-year public institution was $898, or 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. At community colleges, the estimated cost of books and supplies was a whopping 72 percent of the cost of tuition and fees.
At the same time, people have grown accustomed to accessing information online — it’s almost hard to remember a world without Facebook or Wikipedia. And today, more than 80 percent of students own laptops, according to an EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 2008 survey based on responses from 27,313 students at 98 U.S. colleges and universities.
With the proliferation of students owning laptops and the sheer cost of traditional textbooks, it seems that digital textbooks, or e-books, would solve many problems: For students, they cost less, about half the price of a new hard copy; for faculty members, digital platforms offer an easier and more eco-friendly way to evaluate numerous textbook options; and for publishers, e-books may mitigate some of the high costs of doing business.
Why, then, are most of our books more likely print than digital? And how quickly might we expect that to change?