E-Textbook Use Down Among College Students

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

Fewer college students bought and used e-textbooks in the 2011 academic year than in the year prior, according to a new report.

While about 6% of the textbooks students bought for courses in the 2010 academic year were digital books, only 3% were digital in 2011, according to the Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), an industry research organization.

The study, conducted among 1,625 students in late 2011, asked a wide variety of questions about student attitudes toward textbooks and e-textbooks. The report was presented this week at a BISG higher education publishing event in New York. The report’s presenter, Steve Paxhia, president of Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions, a boutique publishing consulting firm, pointed out that the 2011 version of the survey had respondent demographics that were slightly weighted against e-book adoption compared to the previous year’s study, like more full-time students (vs. part-time students).

The academic publishing market has yet to find the same secure purchase in digital publishing as other segments have, like trade publishing.

Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing solutions at RR Bowker, estimated in a later presentation that about 5% to 7% of the e-textbook market is digital, versus the 15% to 20% that many major trade publishers reported as digital in their 2011 earnings reports or the roughly 30% of the romance genre that is digital.

Part of the reason might be availability. According to research among its users by VitalSource Technologies, Inc., a digital textbook distributor owned by Ingram with two million users, e-textbooks are only “always” available for a course 23% of the time. The same survey revealed that if all things were equal (price and availability), students would choose to use e-textbooks 47% of the time.

Other interesting statistics to come from the conference:

— Students are roughly 20% more likely to seek the lowest price on a textbook when they pay for it versus when their parents pay for it

— Nearly a third of students buy their books from Amazon

— The No. 1 reason students buy print textbooks among those who prefer to do so is that they can re-sell them

— About a quarter of students who buy textbooks want to keep them for the future

— About three quarters of students say the No. 1 device they use for studying is a laptop or desktop computer

— About 3% of students say their tablet computer is their No. 1 studying device. About 5% use a tablet computer as their secondary study device. But 46% of students are “interested in an iPad as a study device”

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