Tag Archives: Textbooks

E-Textbooks? Sec’y of Ed Wants ‘Em, But Students Far From Sure

In 2009 California’s then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched an initiative to replace printed textbooks with digital versions. He solicited feedback, and the man known as The Terminator got it in spades. Students flunked the format and wanted their paper books back.(See Not So Fast, Guv)

Since then, similar thumbs-down reactions have come in from schools in many other states, causing administrators to rethink e-book larnin’.  But that didn’t stop Education Secretary Arne Duncan from pronouncing recently that “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.”

Author Justin Hollander, an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, countered with an op-ed piece in the New York Times. “Such technologies certainly have their place,” he wrote. “But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.”

Details in Long Live Paper. And for an analysis of the cognitive challenges to reading e-books, see The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction.
Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Uncle Sam Pushes E-Textbooks, But Students Push Back


With Students on the Fence about E-Textbooks, Amazon Steps Up Print Rentals

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

This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as Digital Textbooks Still Not Catching On With College Students.


Surprise: Students Prefer Print Textbooks. No Surprise: Many Download from Pirates

We’ve been saying for years that students aren’t ready to embrace e-textbooks (See Students Give E-Textbooks a Failing Grade), and now the prestigious Book Industry Study Group confirms it.  In a survey called Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, BISG informs us that 75% of college students prefer printed textbooks instead of e-texts. Publishers Weekly cites student preference for print’s “look and feel, as well as its permanence and ability to be resold.”

The other salient finding was that price is the biggest factor textbook buying decisions, with many of those surveyed buying off Amazon, buying used or previous or international editions or renting (11%). Twelve percent said they prefer e-textbooks.  But the eye-opener was this: “More than 40% of survey respondents said they bought a textbook from a pirate Web site, or know others who have (15% said they personnally have bought a textbook from a pirate site and 25% said they knew some one who had). Many reported copying their friends’ textbooks.”

Details in BISG Survey Finds Students Prefer Print

Richard Curtis


No More Textbook Ripoffs

Whether you’re entering college or a returning student who’s been burned by paying a premium for textbooks and selling them for a fraction of their value, you will bless Tara Siegel Bernard for her New York Times article on how to shop for textbooks.

Bernard points out that “Federal rules that went into effect in July may help ease the pain. Publishers can no longer bundle their textbooks with accompanying materials like workbooks, and they must reveal their prices to professors when making a sales pitch. Colleges, meanwhile, are now required to provide students with a list of assigned textbooks during course registration, which allows for more time for shopping before classes begin.”

Here are some tips Bernard garnered from an interview with Nicole Allen, textbook advocate at the Student Public Interest Research Groups:

Free Books. You can find them in the Google Books database. Another source is Project Gutenberg.  There are problems with this approach (incomplete or poorly reproduced texts, page numbers that don’t correspond to course requirements, etc.) but still worth a shot.

Downloads and e-texts: Check out ManyBooks.net, for instance.  E-texts are (or should be) cheaper than their paper counterparts, but you won’t be able to print them out, and at this stage of the Digital Revolution most students prefer paper textbooks.  See E-Textbooks? Another School Makes Them Sit in a Corner)

Open Source Textbooks “Students who are assigned open source textbooks can usually download a copy for free, or they can buy a printed and bound version for $20 to $40,” Ms. Allen said. See FlatWorld.

The use of so-called open source textbooks, offered by companies like Knowledge, is also on the rise. “Students who are assigned open source textbooks can usually download a copy for free, or they can buy a printed and bound version for $20 to $40,” Ms. Allen told the Times reporter.

ETextbooks Are you the type of student who is completely at ease reading on your computer or iPad and won’t be tempted to print anything out? Then consider using eTextbooks, which are digital versions of textbooks that usually sell for about half the full retail price. Another site to visit is CourseSmart.com, which Bernard described as “a consortium of major textbook publishers that provides eTextbooks that allow students to highlight and take notes electronically.” But once again, printing options may be restricted.

Renting Some schools now rent textbooks. An outfit called Rent-A-Text “has teamed with 800 college bookstores to drive costs down to about half of the list price. You can even highlight if you don’t get too messy about it. There’s also Chegg.com, which Bernard says “has a reputation for being the Netflix of book rental companies.” [Note however that as of this writing we were unable to open the link to Chegg.com.] Other outfits mentioned are BookRenter.com, CampusBookRentals.com, ECampus.com (“We know you’re broke. We make you less broke.”), Textbookrentals.com and Collegebookrenter.com.

Buying Online Bernard lists Campusbooks.com and Bigwords.com for new, used, and rental textbooks. She also reminds us that international editions can be cheaper. Another tip is to look for coupon codes on such sites as PromotionalCodes.com, CouponWinner.com, and PromoCodes.com.

Selling Your TextbooksYou usually won’t get the best deal from your campus bookstore. But if the store knows it will need the same book the following semester,” says Bernard, you might have some bargaining power to recover part of your original investment.Campusbooks.com doesn’t purchase used books,” she informs us, “but it has a neat search engine that lists who’s buying and how much they’re willing to pay.” Also, you can cut out the middle man by listing your available textbooks on Facebook, Craigslist or student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups).

Finally, you might consider…

Donating Your Textbooks. For the charitable or green-minded student, consider donating or selling your texts to BetterWorldBooks.com. According to their website, as of this writing they have raised $8,554,339.14 to combat global illiteracy and saved 34,208,429 books from global landfills. We don’t know whether there are tax writeoffs for such donations but it’s definitely worth asking your accountant.

For details, read Bernard’s article in full: How to Find Cheaper College Textbooks

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


E-Textbooks? Another School Makes Them Sit in a Corner

Last spring we wrote that students at a number of universities such as Wisconsin had reported unhappy experiences using Kindles as textbooks.  (See Students Give E-Textbooks Failing Grade)

Now another school, New York City’s Pace, has reported a failed experiment. Pace is one of seven colleges trying to shift textbook use from print to digital, so Pace’s bad trip could be symptomatic of negativity among students to shifting to e-books.

“Initially, there was a lot of excitement about using digital course materials,” a Pace educator is quoted in Can the Kindle and Its Ilk Ease Textbook Inflation? by the Village Voice‘s Fahmida Y. Rashid. “Pace offered the Kindle to students in the selected classes with the appropriate course materials already preloaded on the device. Students had the option to buy the Kindle (at a discounted price) at the end of the course.”

“But By the end of the year, Rashid says, “the excitement had waned. ‘The experiment did not really go well,’ says Dr. Karen Berger, associate dean and director of undergraduate programs at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. ‘Two students bought the [print] textbook within a month of the start of the course.’ Student complaints ranged from difficulties in taking notes to clumsy navigation controls. The electronic annotation feature was especially ‘slow and cumbersome,’ she says, requiring students to manipulate a tiny button to underline passages and type notes on the Kindle’s ergonomically unfriendly keyboard.

“Berger also feels the textbook used in her class was not as effective on the Kindle as it was in print. The photos, pictures, and diagrams in the e-textbook were all black and white, she says, and the image quality was not quite as sharp as it would have been in print.”

Navigation is a really big issue: “It’s one thing to read a mystery or novel on the Kindle” says another Pace executive, “but the way you read a textbook is different. You are flipping back and forth while reading, and navigation was cumbersome, even with bookmarks.”

Universities and students hoping to save money by dumping printed books may have to wait until educators get an advance degree in Paradigm Shift 101.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the Village Voice


Two Hundred Bucks for a Textbook? No Thanks, I’ll Just Rip It off

Tom Simpson, who works at San Diego State University’s bookstore, may not condone some of the tactics students use to get around the exorbitant prices of textbooks, but he’s certainly sympathetic to their plight. He says so in a “Soapbox” guest editorial in Publishers Weekly. What inspired him was a recent sale he made to a student: two books for $325.

“This year,” he writes, “the college bookstore where I work has its first books priced north of $200. That price tag is painful in any year, but when people are hurting, it’s a travesty.”

Textbook prices have made a lot of headlines recently, highlighted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiative to push his state’s school system into e-textbooks. (Read Hasta La Vista, Textbooks.)

Is Simpson’s store selling e-textbooks? “Digital books have also seen an uptick in sales,” he says. “This semester we have 265 titles available in electronic editions, and with prices reduced to around 40% or 50% off the new hardcover price, an increasing number of students are willing to download a book or read it online.”

Students will do just about anything to hold down the cost of books, including buying used books and international editions, borrowing, sharing and renting. But when all legitimate approaches have been exhausted, there is always stealing. “Cheap is nice,” says Simpson wistfully “but free is better.”

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by Publishers Weekly.


iPhone Cramps Digital Textbooks

For over a decade we’ve longed to hear that the day of the digital textbook had arrived, and last month we announced, “That day appears to have come.” (Pub Industry Braces for Schwarzeneggrification of Textbooks)

Did we put an asterisk next to that announcement? If not, we should have. Randall Stross, in the New York Times, reminds us that not every screen is suitable for textbook reading, especially for math and science texts, the very kind that California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been pressing his state’s school system to adopt.

Other states, and just about everyone in the $5.5 billion textbook publishing industry, are watching the experiment to see if it’s going to fly. There’s no doubt that it is. It just may not fly on the iPhone, writes Stross in the Times‘s Digital Domain column. “The iPhone has a grand total of six square inches of display. In my opinion, no amount of ingenuity will enable textbooks to squeeze into a credit-card-size space.” Stross contrasts iPhone’s screen to the 155 square inches of the two-page spread in a typical textbook, then details some of the problems with a San Mateo software company called CourseSmart:

The iPhone app from CourseSmart does not reformat the print textbook’s contents for display on a small screen. Instead, it uses a PDF image of each page, as does the browser-based version of its eTextbook. All of the charts, graphs and design elements are intact, but everything — including the text — is indecipherably small without zooming in. Enlarging the text to legible size introduces the need to scroll left and right for each line, which quickly grows tedious.

PDFs on a tiny screen are not what the e-book industry’s founding mothers and fathers had in mind when they envisioned a reading device in the backpack of every student. The essence of e-text is reflow-ability. Graphs, charts, formulas and other fundamental textbook features must literally be able to go with the flow. If you can’t read all of a formula on the screen, or if a graph is on one page and you can’t match it instantly to the text, or if back-and-forthing between pages means a wait of ten or fifteen seconds, a textbook is close to useless, maybe worse than useless.

Whenever we referred to educational applications we always had in mind a dedicated reading device of laptop or tablet size and functionality. See for instance our analysis of developments in this area, Kindle Sequel on the Way, But Will It Play on Campus? Stross’s article only reinforces our rock-solid certainty that the key to e-textbooks is the tablet, and you’ll never see an asterisk next to that declaration.

Here’s Stross’s article in full: Texting? No, Just Trying to Read Chapter 6

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Pub Industry Braces for Schwarzeneggrification of Textbooks

About ten years ago as the digital book revolution got under way in earnest, the industry’s pioneers agreed that e-books would take off only when a generation of students had matured and begun demanding its content online.

That day appears to have come. With textbook prices tripling since 1986 and rising at twice the national inflation rate, students are looking at school books the way they looked at music CDs – if there’s a cheap or free way to get their hands on them, they will.

“Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet,” writes Tamar Lewin of the New York Times, “but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.”

That will come as welcome news to many of the nation’s 17 million students. Both the cost and the weight of book-laden backpacks can be crippling.

But for publishers of textbooks and college bookstores it will feel as if the Death Star has just launched a doomsday weapon. Textbooks are a $5.5 billion industry, representing about 25% of the entire US book market. According to the National Association of College Stores, in 2007-08, students spent an average of $488 on new and used course materials in the college store or its online equivalent. The average price of a new textbook in 2008 was $57, and for a used one, $49. Some textbooks cost over $100 and the total book fees at some schools can exceed $1000 a year.

The loss of a good chunk of that revenue is going to put a big hurt on all who make a living from textbooks (and let’s not forget the authors!). Nevertheless, that seems to be the way the world is going. “In five years,” says the superintendent of one county serving half a million students, “I think the majority of students will be using digital textbooks”

Though publishers are repurposing their textbook content for online delivery, the pressure by colleges to hold costs down will make digitally delivered content far less profitable than books packaged in hard covers.

The state leading the charge to take textbooks digital is California under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who balked at the cost and half-joked that the weight of printed textbooks was daunting even for him, an international bodybuilding champion. His initiative is to replace high school math and science textbooks with open source digital versions, which are free thanks to the efforts of CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit group. CK-12 has adapted textbooks to meet state education standards.

“With California in dire straits, the governor hopes free textbooks could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” writes Lewin in In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History. If the experiment is successful, what happens in California is not going to stay in California.

Cengage Learning, however, is trying another approach: renting textbooks. It will rent them for 40% to 70% off list price for as little as two months and as long as 130 days, according to another article by Lewin. When the rental ends, students have a choice of returning the books or buying them.

One of the benefits of Cengage’s business model is author compensation. “’Our authors will get royalties on second and third rentals, just as they would on a first sale,’” Lewin quotes Cengage’s CEO. In the traditional model, textbook authors never receive royalties on resales.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Pearson to Help Schwarzenegger Pump Digits in CA Textbook Initiative

There’s some followup news of note on our story of last week, Hasta La Vista, Textbooks.

After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger complained about the cost of print textbooks, which is adding to his state’s astronomical budget deficit, and joked about using heavy print editions to build muscles, international media giant Pearson took him up on his call for a e-book substitutes in science and math. Pearson is a world leader in education, business information and consumer publishing (they own Penguin Books, for example).

Craig Morgan Teicher of Publishers Weekly reports that Peter Cohen, Pearson’s CEO of North America school curriculum business, stated,“We believe it is important to take these forward steps toward an online delivery system and we are supporting the Governor’s initiative, recognizing there are numerous challenges ahead for the education community to work through.”

The changeover will not be achieved with a snap of the fingers. The California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative spells out a number of the challenges that Pearson’s Cohen alludes to.

The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) is responsible for reviewing these materials to verify that they are aligned to the California content standards. Qualifying mathematics courses include geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, or calculus. The science materials must be aligned to the standards for physics, chemistry, biology/life sciences, or earth sciences, including the investigation and experimentation strand. Digital textbooks should approach or equal a full course of study and must be downloadable.

Above is a photo of the Governor before his state’s financial woes bowed his shoulders.



Hasta La Vista,Textbooks

There’s nothing like a celebrity endorsement to boost a product, and e-books could not ask for a more renowned patron than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though he stands at the pinnacle of fame as governor of California, it doesn’t take much to make him revert to his identity as The Terminator. In this case the things he wants to terminate are textbooks. After hefting a few, Schwarzenegger, arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time, joked “I can use these for curls.”

But it isn’t the books’ weight that daunts him; it’s their cost. Waging a fight to the death to extirpate his state’s $24 billion budget deficit, he’s questioned whether printed textbooks are any longer viable, especially when schools buy revised and updated volumes every year or two. So, he’s now looking into taking California’s educational system digital.

Mark Tran, writing for the UK’s Guardian website, picked up on a statement of Schwarzenegger’s that appeared in a California newspaper:

“It’s nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form. Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators’ hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources.”

Tran says the Guv wants to replace high school math and science books with e-book readers, which can hold all the schoolbooks students will ever need. And let’s not forget that updated and revised editions are simply one refresh away.

Read Arnold Schwarzenegger to scrap school textbooks in favour of ebooks.