About 6% of students are using a “core digital textbook” as their main course material, according to a new study from the Book Industry Study Group, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of four-year and two-year college students during the fall 2012 academic semester for the third year for its Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education report. This number is unchanged from the same period a year ago.
At the same time, there are signs that students are migrating away from print textbooks. In 2012, just under 60% of students used the core physical textbook for their coursework, down from just under 70%. Around four of five students bought, rented or borrowed a used physical textbook for their coursework, down from over 90%.
“The college student today is in the early stages of a migration, but it’s a mystery because we really don’t know where this migration is going to end up,” said Len Vlahos, executive director of BISG, who delivered the data in a presentation at the Making Information Pay for Higher Education conference in New York today, adding, “it’s not going to be done in a two-or-three year period — this is a longer trend.”
While students may not be adopting e-textbooks, they are taking to what higher education publishing insiders are calling “integrated learning systems” (ILS), which are online learning platforms that include course materials, study groups and other interactive and social features. About 14% of students are using ILS for their coursework. Perhaps most importantly, students say that ILS help them improve their grades more than both physical textbooks and e-textbooks.
One piece of good news for publishers of higher education materials that want to expand to publishing more e-textbooks is the adoption of digital devices among students. Most students have a desktop or laptop computer and a third now have tablet computers — double the percentage who did this time last year. The dark cloud to this silver lining is that less than 5% of students currently use tablets as their primary study device.
Another piece of good news for publishers is that e-textbook piracy is not a big problem at this point. About 10% of students say they have acquired their course materials — both physical and e- — illicitly in some way (though some 30% to 40% of students say that they know someone who has pirated materials, Vlahos said, suggesting that students may not be wholly honest about their own piracy). One of the main drivers of piracy may be price: Students are less likely to pirate course materials when their parents are paying for them.
On the digital side, piracy may be less of a problem than on the print side, according to another presentation later in the Making Information Pay program.
“The vast majority of ebook [ebook course materials] are purchased and not downloaded for free, borrowed from libraries or copies from friends and family,” said Joe Karaganis, vice president of the American Assembly at Columbia University and editor of the 2011 book Media Piracy in Emerging Economies.
About 85% of students acquire their e-textbooks by buying them legally, he said, adding, “this is an incredibly legal market.”
But as the market matures and students get more used to stripping digital rights management software and sharing files — relatively easy things to do that many students may not be completely familiar or comfortable with yet — piracy could become a bigger problem, said Karaganis.