Students, Professors Still Not Yet Ready for Digital Textbooks

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The e-textbook “revolution” is still waiting to start.

Students and professors are still not adopting the use of digital textbooks in any great numbers, according to the latest data from Bowker Market Research, presented today in a Digital Book World webcast. Further, the percentage of students who are using them has remained flat over the past few semesters.

While publishers are increasingly creating and selling digital materials and students increasingly have the devices on which to consume that content, only 3% of students last semester used a digital textbook as their primary course material (for a specific course). That’s down from 4% for the fall semester.

Overwhelmingly, students prefer print, according to the survey of 1,540 undergraduate college students at both four-year and two-year institutions of higher education.

When asked why, about half “prefer the look and feel of print;” nearly half say they like to highlight and take notes in the textbooks; and a third cite that they can’t re-sell digital textbooks.

According to U.S. director of Bowker Market Research, Carl Kulo, who developed the research, price and benefit to the student are the main factors that influence students to try and use new and different course materials.

“Students aren’t resisting digital,” he said. “It’s extremely critical in their daily lives. But they are seeing more learning and monetary value in print textbooks.”

Still, there are some positive signs that digital textbooks have gained a toehold in the marketplace. Over the last two years, 31% of students have tried digital textbooks, up from 28% who were asked the same question last semester. Among those students who have tried digital textbooks in the past two years, about a quarter of them prefer the digital format, versus 14% for those who have not used them in the past two years.

Among those few students who prefer digital textbooks to print, the reasons are the price, the ability to search the text and how easy they are to carry around.

Digital textbooks are just one component of a student’s digital learning mix. Learning management solutions like Blackboard and others figure heavily into higher education today. Nearly a quarter of students use a “learning management system” or “integrated learning system.”

Beyond the preferences of students, those of professors, who determine course materials, factor heavily into this data. For instance, only half of professors surveyed in this Bowker study made the digital textbook an option for courses. When asked why they made their course material choices, the top three reasons professors gave were experience with the text previously, the actually content inside the book and cost to students.

“Inertia is an inhibitor to rapid change in this market,” said Kulo, adding, “professors are more likely to integrate digital into their courses, but not necessarily digital textbooks.”

While growth has been slow thus far, Kulo believes that the market will take off in two-to-five years and that it won’t be driven by students or professors.

“We believe that it’s the publishers and other educational technology companies that will drive the shift to digital,” he said, stressing that device adoption among students would be a key factor. “It will probably take about two-to-five years for the revolution to happen and it will probably happen when a critical mass of students have the device that makes best use of the content.”


Other Findings

— Laptops are still overwhelmingly the most popular device for students reading digital textbooks. The iPad, specifically, is No. 2, but far behind:

etextbooks3 - devices

— Students would be willing to pay $78 for a digital textbook that they could own and $45 that they would mere have access to during the semester (assuming a $100 textbook price).

— Despite the stagnation of digital textbook adoption, some publishers are reporting that a significant portion of their revenue is “digital”:

etextbooks1 - publishers

— Students are increasingly getting all their textbooks — print and digital — from Amazon:

etextbooks2 - amazon

Source for all data: Bowker Market Research

16 thoughts on “Students, Professors Still Not Yet Ready for Digital Textbooks

  1. Edward smith, PhD

    I would say this may be because there are so few etextbooks available – my students read all scholarly journals online. Many, perhaps most, rarely enter the library, and I teach History.

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