Digital Textbooks Still Not Catching On With College Students

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

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If print books are going to make a comeback, it may start with textbooks. Efforts to motivate students to adopt e-textbooks have collided with some hard realities, causing publishers and retailers to rethink their digital strategies if not retrench altogether. The latest example is Amazon, which has plunged bigtime into the textbook rental market.

Why has it proven so hard for digital textbooks to establish a beachhead? In 2010 we reported on a number of campuses around the nation. Students complained that it was much harder to to navigate back and forth in an e-textbook than a print one. Annotating and bookmarking was more challenging in e than p. Charts and graphs didn’t match up with the texts to which they referred. One student told a Seattle Times reporter that “You don’t read textbooks in the same linear way as a novel. You have to flip back and forth between pages, and the Kindle is too slow for that.” (See Students Give E-Textsbooks a Failing Grade.)

Recognizing consumer resistance to e-texts, a number of enterprising companies, including Amazon’s arch-rival Barnes & Noble, launched print textbook rentals, catching Amazon at a disadvantage. But of course Amazon seldom stays on the wrong side of a competition for very long, and has now stepped up its print textbook rental business. The rentals are on a semester basis, and the rent for print is on a par with the rent for digital.

Details in Laura Hazard Owens’ Amazon adds print textbook rental. See also Not So Fast, Guv! Wisconsin Students Not Ready to Terminate Paper Books.

Richard Curtis

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