No one except for authors, publishers, and booksellers believes that college textbooks are reasonably priced. I have been involved with a number of projects over the years to reduce the cost of textbooks, most of which focused on open educational resources (OER), which may be the topic of a future post. The more promising approach, however, may be what is being termed “inclusive access,” a terrible phrase because it brings in a whiff of a political agenda for what is essentially a matter of business. In inclusive access, publishers work directly with institutions to come up with discounted digital versions of core texts. The institutions then license the books on behalf of the students, sometimes collecting money from the students, sometimes not. We are going to be seeing more of this, though the ultimate form of the model is not yet clear. But happen it will, as there are too many incentives for it to fail to move forward.

lecture at university

So how does this work? In the traditional model — which has been a phenomenally effective contributor to the development of a highly educated population — authors, usually college instructors, write books for specialized publishers that focus on the college sector. The publishers field a sales force, which may be quite large (providing a rationale for industry consolidation, as scale is a big factor in college publishing); that sales force heads out to campuses around the country, calling on instructors in their offices. New texts are talked up; samples (print and digital) are provided. The instructor then decides which book or books to use and tells students to go out to buy them. The students go to their local campus bookstore or look to other venues (Amazon is perhaps 15% of the textbook market), including sources of used books and, yes, pirate sites. Some students do without textbooks entirely. Note that for authors and publishers, used and pirated books, and of course the absence of any book at all, provides no income. Bookstores, however, may profit from the sale of used books.

I have previously explained on the Kitchen why college textbooks are so expensive. To sum up that argument: textbooks are expensive because the person mandating their use (the instructor) is not the same person who has to pay for them (the student). Instructors want their students to have the best books, the most comprehensive books, the ones with the best supplemental resources; they also want books that make their lives as teachers easy. These things naturally drive up the costs, even when students use only a small part of the total package. If instructors had to pay for the books themselves, it would reshape the entire industry.

Inclusive access is a reshaping tool, though of a different kind. In such an arrangement, institutions make certain commitments, and publishers respond with heavily discounted pricing. One form this takes is for the university to license a publishers’ texts and then make them available to the students; the students pay for access through a fee. The commitments the university makes are critical; they can include a willingness to work with digital copies (with paid print-on-demand as an option) and a license that covers every student in the class (eliminating the used book and piracy markets). If these deals are well-negotiated by the publishers, the income to the publishers with this model could exceed that from the traditional model, even as the price to the students is a mere fraction of what a traditional print volume purchased at the college bookstore would cost.

How can this be? Let’s assume an instructor requires that students use a specific book on organic chemistry. At the college bookstore the students discover that the print version costs $200. But that sum does not go back to the publisher; the publisher is likely to receive something in the area of $120 as the bookseller exacts a margin of approximately 40%. In inclusive access, on the other hand, the $80 markup that the bookstore took goes away, with no loss to the publisher.

Other costs then begin to drop out. The cost of printing disappears for digital editions (a big number for hefty college textbooks), as does the cost of print desk copies. Returns, where bookstores send back unsold copies to publishers, are an artifact of print; with inclusive access there are no returns and hence no returns cost. Nor is there a cost for warehousing and shipping.

But the biggest gain is in the number of copies licensed. Let’s say our hypothetical class has 30 students. The publishers would love to sell copies to all 30 students, but about one-third will buy used books and approximately 8 more will get pirated copies or do without entirely. So the publisher may only sell 12 copies to a class of 30 kids. With inclusive access, on the other hand, institutions commit to purchasing licenses for the entire class, so the publisher gets 30 sales from 30 prospects. That means that the revenue per copy can drop without cutting into publishers’ profits.

There are winners and losers with inclusive access. The biggest losers are bookstores, which are cut out of the supply chain. Other losers are anyone who traditionally touched a print book, including truckers and warehouse personnel. The winners are students (lower prices) and publishers, which have eliminated the used book and pirate market in one swoop, even as all the costs of managing print have evaporated.

If inclusive access is such a great idea, why don’t we just snap our fingers and make it happen? Unsurprisingly, there are some forces and issues that have to be taken into account:

Booksellers. Many college bookstores are operated by commercial third parties, which sign contracts with the university administration granting the bookstore the exclusive right to sell books on campus. An inclusive access program may be regarded as a competing bookstore and hence a violation of that contract. Before we accuse the bookstore owners of greed, let’s remind ourselves that if we operated that bookstore, we would have demanded the very same exclusive rights.

Universities. The on-campus bookstore typically pays a percentage of its income to the university as part of the rent. Inclusive access would cut into the bookstore’s revenues, and thus lower the university’s income. Note the conflict the university is in: on one hand it wants to lower student costs (or claim to), on the other it wants to profit from students. This gets at a fundamental distraction in the “cheap textbook” movement: the real cost to students is outrageously high tuition, but it’s easier to target publishers than to reduce bloated university overhead.

The state government. For public institutions the sale of textbooks may be a significant source of sales tax revenue. Inclusive access would do away with that sales tax, since most universities are not-for-profit and pay no sales taxes. So here we have another conflict: the state wants to help students even as it profits from them.

The affordances of digital editions. This is not a matter of anyone’s economic interests but rather an issue that applies to many academic and professional books. With inclusive access all the books (except for students who exercise the expensive print-on-demand option) are digital, but college textbooks typically have complex page formatting, which makes for an unsatisfactory reading and studying situation when the books are moved to digital media. This is unfortunate; I would have thought that we would have had multiple display and formatting options by now, but it appears that Amazon’s virtual monopoly on ebooks has put a damper on competition and innovation. Most core college textbooks today are sold in print, and there is a reason for that. Is it a good idea to force students into digital editions when we haven’t figured out how best to display text, table, charts, and graphs?

Academic freedom. As I have talked with people working with OER and inclusive access, I have not been made comfortable with their view of the place of academic freedom, which in this case means the right of instructors to choose the texts for a class. An OER advocate once said to me that “calculus is calculus.” Oh, is it really? If a university has arrangements with three publishers for deeply discounted calculus texts, but an instructor wants to use a fourth, should that be permitted? (I would say yes.) But even if it is permitted, how will the instructor who adopts a $175 calculus textbook feel about having $40 digital textbooks available from the inclusive access service? Does that not put pressure on the instructor? Could inclusive access initiate a race to the bottom? I hope not, but I wish more advocates of inexpensive textbooks would take a stand to support the faculty.

Despite these obstacles, inclusive access is likely to make great strides in the coming years. And after we have lowered the cost of textbooks, perhaps we can move on to other aspects of the high cost of higher education.

Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.

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Discussion

42 Thoughts on "How to Reduce the Cost of College Textbooks"

On the topic of “outrageously high tuition”, no doubt a serious concern for those who promote the value of affordable higher education, according to the BLS (see: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/college-tuition-and-fees-increase-63-percent-since-january-2006.htm) while college tuition and fees have increased 63% from January 2006 to July 2016, the cost of textbooks, in that same period increased 88% – while all other items increased 21% on average. So if you are alarmed by bloated university overhead, it certainly doesn’t look good for textbook publishers that their products have escalated in cost at a pace that exceeds even college tuition. There’s certainly some unnecessary bloat going on there as well.

Inclusive access is one of a number of expanding options that fall under the umbrella of “textbook affordability”, along with hybrid platforms (blends of OER and code access content) being offered by publishers and those commercial third parties operating bookstore chains and OER content as well. OER advocates will of course encourage educators to adopt open solutions whenever possible and when they do work best for faculty and their students. As you point out, publishers will be introducing other options in the effort to offer more affordable learning materials, so I think we will all need to be more open to a range of possibilities. If faculty are concerned about the cost and quality of digital learning materials, and their freedom to choose, I hope they will want to work with OER advocates to produce the content that best delivers on affordability and learning for their students.

I’ve seen a lot of conflicting figures on the cost increases of tuition. Bloomberg says tuition has increased 1,120% since 1980:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-08-23/college-tuitions-1-120-percent-increase
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has the same period as a 260% increase:
http://www.businessinsider.com/this-chart-shows-how-quickly-college-tuition-has-skyrocketed-since-1980-2015-7
Meanwhile, the NY Times says, “…over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled…”
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/the-real-reason-college-tuition-costs-so-much.html?_r=0

Interesting post. Some comments from someone working for a UK bookseller.
1. I am not sure that a move to inclusive models per se will be as much a threat to booksellers as is suggested. There is a significant role for someone to make these inclusive provisions effective for both students and institutions from working with faculty on the selection of resources to delivering exceptional levels of engagement and usage. Booksellers are well placed to do this and over 80% of our business is now associated with university funded provisions to whole cohorts. In our experience, no whole cohort scheme can be provided by one publisher and it is obviously in the institutions’ best interest to work with one partner on the ground to make these schemes work than with multiple suppliers who cannot devote the time and resources required to drive value (see below).
2. Where we have helped to implemented these schemes prices do come down. Price is, however, only one component of value for institutions and students. The other two key considerations are engagement rates and usage and how they impact on student recruitment, retention and degree outcomes. On many schemes where there are very high levels of student engagement and usage, the increase in student progression rates and student recruitment and subsequent increase in fee income have more than covered the cost of the resources to the institution. On the other hand there are some whole cohort schemes in the UK where keen prices have been negotiated but where student engagement rates are below 80% with similarly low usage rates that are clearly not delivering the intended value. The value of having on the ground training and support to drive engagement is significant.
3. I am sure that the costs of these schemes will continue to come down as more OERs are included. But here again there is a role for partner. The Opening the Textbook report from Babson Survey Research Group indicated that only 4.7% of US undergraduate courses are supported by open textbooks whilst the potential was for over 30% to be – the gating factor being faculty time to discover, evaluate and selected. Whilst agreeing completely re the academic freedom points in the post, there is an opportunity here for an on the ground partner to support the wider adoption of OERs.
4. One final comment (and probably reflecting my bias as a professional publisher in the past) the inclusive model and most of the pricing models for digital content based on units and users remain stubbornly analogue. I am not sure they will persist, I am sure more flexible pricing models based on comparative usage and outcomes will be developed and introduced.

Independent textbook publishing is one way to significantly lower the price of textbooks (full disclosure – I represent one of the largest companies supporting independent publishing) as this eliminates the large profits earned by traditional publishers. For example, we had an author who was selling his university physics book via a traditional publisher around the $350 range (he had no control of the retail price of his book). His students were angry at the ridiculous retail price, and he was getting only around 6% of royalties. After regaining the rights to his book, he decided to publish independently, setting his sales price at around $61. His students were delighted and his own revenues soared as he retained 70% of royalties instead of 6%. Even if an additional distribution arrangement is engaged (typically, distributors take 20-40% of royalties), the retail price to the student is dramatically lower and the revenues to the author (or university – many of who are now publishing independently) are considerably higher. Result…happy students….happy authors and/or universities. Not so happy traditional publishers.

First let me acknowledge that I get an annual textbook royalty check for two books still being used, although it’s a pittance as first-sale doctrine dictates that new books drop shipped to England and then reshipped to the U.S. are discounted 50 percent because it’s an international edition with a different cover. For ethical reasons, I don’t profit off my own students. I simply teach something else, but I still use a somewhat pricey book. So I put a desk copy (or two) at the Closed Reserve desk at the library. Any student can check it out for a couple hours and read it in the library. Or photocopy from it. (It always amazed me that students used to go to great lengths to rip and share a $15 music CD and then ignore the same tactic for their $150 textbook.) Now that I have two kids in college, we usually rent or I sometimes request a copy via interlibrary loan (or find them on libgen.io). Ethics only goes so far. The publishers have cooked up a new scheme where you buy a software license to use their book. My son had to $200 to complete a single section of Spanish 202 that way.

Thanks Joseph for an insightful laying out the arguments for the present. Consider the argument of Richard and Daniel Susskind that what can be parsed into units can and eventually will be the domain of AI. Consider that this is the announced goal of Salman Kahn and the Kahn Academy and actually was the basis of the founding of the Kahn Academy when text and faculty were insufficient and Salman and others provided the support needed to crystalize the ideas within the minds of the students.

Text books can’t replace faculty when it comes to discussions and related non-static interactions. This is the basic argument for the “flipped” classroom. Let the students study the static information on their own and come to class for a different experience.

While academics may be at the cutting edge in their research, their transmission of knowledge in the university is a lagging indicator. So the directions being explored here may have a longer half-life as the faculty also have a vested interest in the textbook. Looking at the rapidity of the adoption of “flipped” classrooms and the changes, in the US in the primary/secondary education programs, the half-life of the “inclusive” models may be shorter than anticipated

Great piece, Joe. Reading it, I couldn’t help but notice that there’s an entity on every campus that has lots of experience and expertise in putting together deals like this: the library. Unfortunately, we’ve been too slow to take advantage of this emerging opportunity and to overcome our traditional aversion to textbook provision, and now we’ll probably be bypassed. Which is really too bad, because it means that another organization on campus will end up investing time and energy in learning how to do something that the library is already very good at doing. That’s our loss, and our institutions’.

Just a quick note to agree that the library is exceptionally well positioned to take ownership of these type of schemes. The ones that we are involved with in the UK that have the highest levels of student engagement are typically managed with the library team. We are also finding that libraries are embracing their role as part of teaching and learning and in being key to the successful introduction of blended learning be that through these resource provision schemes or through providing the best learning spaces for self-study and group study on campus.

Yes, academic libraries in the UK have a long history of leadership with regard to textbook provision. Unfortunately, in the US our traditional position has been very different — with a handful of exceptions, we’ve seen textbooks as “not our job,” and that attitude has persisted even as opportunities to get involved (and make a big difference for our students) have multiplied. It’s been a real missed opportunity for us.

At Louisiana State University Library, a team of librarians collates data about assigned textbooks, the Library’s electronic holdings, and DRM-free ebooks available from publishers. We even buy ebooks specifically for textbook use when it makes sense. The team of librarians generates steady publicity on campus about this. Unsurprisingly, students are enthusiastic.
Faculty are invited to search for available ebooks here: http://lib.lsu.edu/ebooks/faculty.
Students can find assigned ebooks here: http://lib.lsu.edu/ebooks

So often articles on reducing the cost of college textbooks ignore the authors that often spend years developing this content and deserve to be paid for their effort. Once again there is no mention of content creators and their role and their need to be paid. Any new plan needs to recognize that producing a textbook takes many long hours and dedication to produce a final product. The standard author rate is 25% of the print price, and if the publisher is expecting 40%, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for price reduction.

While 40% might be the traditional margin for trade books, for textbooks sold at college bookstores the margin is much lower – the National Association of College Stores put it at 21.1% in 2013. That’s just for new books. With the huge increase in e-textbooks and rentals since then, I would imagine that even if the margin stayed the same, the profits have declined significantly. NACS further estimates that after other expenses, they make less than 4 cents on the dollar for new textbook sales. (See http://www.nacs.org/advocacynewsmedia/faqs/faqontextbooks.aspx.) College stores make most of their profits on licensed apparel, not textbooks. Textbooks aren’t astronomically expensive because bookstores are greedy, in other words. (And yes, I realize that NACS is an advocacy group, but plenty of bookstore managers are willing to work with textbook affordability projects on campus, so I have to believe that these numbers are real. They aren’t worried about losing money if OERs gain ground.)

In the UK academic libraries are leading the way on these sort of schemes as witnessed by our work at the University of Manchester. It does however require libraries to slay a few previously sacred cows and admit that their previous methods of providing textbooks were wholly inadequate for their students. Also the value we can add to both students and learning agendas is much enhanced by getting involved on behalf of our institutions In general terms the whole textbook market is at a tipping point though and really requires publishers to look at the market in totally different terms, They have the opportunity to build volume sales they could never have dreamed of in the past, but they have to take a hit on margins and realise current prices are artificially inflated too. Students and academics are looking at other options and if publishers don’t adapt the ship will sail on by.
Dominic Broadhurst – University of Manchester, UK

Good review of a complex subject.
I would like to see this line of thought extended to include the potential impact of integrating the inclusive access concept into the Student Information Systems (SIS) and the Learning Management Systems (LMS) that are now widely used in higher education.
Pilot programs involving traditional textbook publishers and universities have been operating for several years now. The basic idea is to use the SIS to trigger a chain of events culminating in the availability of an “learning materials (e.g.eTextbook) to a students and supplementary teaching materials (including test question banks) to the instructor (professor). The SIS is where the institution records the student’s paid enrollment into a specific course. The SIS then transmits that information to the LMS which admits the student into the LMS aspect of the course which could be fully online or, more likely, a hybrid of online and face-to-face (FTF). Those learning materials become available to the student on day one of class without the student having to visit the book store or seek out used/pirated copies of a textbook.
The institution negotiates with the publishers and that should but might not include consultation with faculty. The institution can offer 100% sell-through and the publisher can respond with substantially lower costs to the institution as described here. Notably, publishers in these pilot programs refer to “learning materials” in place of terms such as book, eBook, textbook or eTextbook.
Perhaps this will be the end of textbooks as we have known them.

I am curious about the statement, “but college textbooks typically have complex page formatting, which makes for an unsatisfactory reading and studying situation when the books are moved to digital media.” Where did this conclusion come from?

I have self-published two computer science textbooks. One (568 pages, 8.5×11 format) is sold through Lulu.com in both print on demand ($21.49) and in PDF ($10.99). I also provide a free online version with lower quality formatting. The second book was authored with the MathBook XML system, which provided excellent online formatting, and is free online. This is the second semester of using this second book, and I may offer a print on demand paperback version after this “shake out.”

So far, no students have complained about “an unsatisfactory reading and studying situation” with the digital versions. About one-third of my sales of the first book are paperback. But the second book has great online formatting. I visited one class that is using the book (I’m retired, so someone else is teaching the class) and asked how many students wanted a paperback version. Only a couple of hands went up.

I’m not sure how much one can generalize between different fields of study at different levels. The design and composition needs of an introductory art history textbook are likely quite different from a graduate level bioinformatics textbook. Your subject areas may very well be taught without the didactic tools that improve teaching in other subject areas, so it is difficult to draw much of a conclusion here.

So far, no students have complained about “an unsatisfactory reading and studying situation” with the digital versions.

As always, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Why formatting is an issue needs to be clarified and discussed within the confines of the format used (EPUB, PDF, HTML, etc.). This is a good example of HTML eTextbook formatting and we might also cite exemplars for EPUB and PDF. With the merger of IDPF and W3C, the differences between EPUB and HTML will lessen or disappear but, right now, we need to hew to one context or another as we discuss these matters.
If the issue is being able to cite a specific element of an eTextbook (e.g. “Note the chart on page 234 and how it shows …”) as if it were a fixed paper textbook, PDFs have an advantage as long as that PDF doesn’t adapt to viewports of various sizes as EPUB and HTML does. Is this the problem?
If so, how can students and teachers accurately cite things in an eTextbook? Perhaps we need some kind of sharable bookmarks or byte-marks as in, “Note the chart at byte NNN and how it shows …”
Sacrificing analog is part and parcel of benefitting from digital. Surely, we can adapt.

That’s precisely my point. One cannot generalize. As I continue to work with authoring for digital media, I’m learning that different complexities work better with different media. I think it’s a mistake to limit our thinking to replicating a paper presentation in digital media. Perhaps it’s true that moving books to digital media give an “unsatisfactory reading and studying situation” (has not been true in my experience), but I think that argues for authoring with digital media in mind.

A question I see is: How can we design the textbook so that students who prefer paper can use it alongside those who prefer digital? In my earlier textbook, I accomplished this by using PDF for the digital version (adjusting margins and page size to preserve pagination), but PDF does not scale well across different screen sizes. And PDF does not include many of the online features that can be used in, say, HTML. I suspect we will reach a point where some textbooks will be digital only.

The “inclusive access” model is not just an abstract idea. It actually works. Indiana University has been using this model for over six years. We have achieved 50% year over year growth and have passed $6 million in gross volume.

This semester (spring 2017) we have 438 course with 1,135 sections and 34,436 students using 1,246 items. This generated over $2.7 million in revenue for publishers and an estimated savings to students of over $3.9 million.

Some infrastructure investment is required to take the model to scale, but we have found the return to be well worth it. We have successful negotiated contracts with a large number of publishers including nearly all of the major textbook providers. The exception is in health science. Our agreements cover supplementary materials. We use the Unizin Engage platform to host our digital textbooks and have found it to be effective. We have found that students are generally comfortable with digital content and that very few opt for paper copies. That all of the textbook material is available to all students on the first day of class matters.

We be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in our experience.

I am wondering who is going to cover the cost of test banks, grading software, study guides, instructor’s manuals, overhead projections, and electronic delivery of materials used by the professor In short, all the ancillary materials supplied by the publisher and now expected by the professor. I can see Joe’s argument for the 30 student course but wonder about the 300+ enrolling course. Also, fewer and fewer textbook publishers are publishing for the small enrollment courses. Most college publishers are custom publishing for courses now.
Is the price of textbooks really a problem? Or is it a problem because the cost comes as a one time immediate purchase?
The college board suggests a student budget about $1,200 per year for text books. On the other hand according to the University of Pennsylvania the average student spends about $900 on alcohol! http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/shs/alcohol.php. Of course the cost of beer comes only one sip at a time!

Can we please be sure to identify these publishers as commercial, profit publishers? University presses have been in this space for years – even intro courses- with affordable, dependable editions.
I would like to see SK be more careful in these distinctions – university presses and library presses are designed to be service, mission driven, please use more care with the term “publisher”

The kinds of books that U. presses publish, even when they are adopted in classrooms, are not what is typically meant by “college textbooks.” Those textbooks are mostly (85% of sales volume) published by the Big 5. It is these books that are being studied for inclusive access programs.

Other University Presses have textbook programs, in addition to Princeton, are increasingly offering more textbooks. Oxford University Press has a separate US Higher Ed group. Cambridge University Press where I work has been publishing textbooks among the monographs for decades. The fact that the commercial publishers are no longer publishing books for the upper level undergraduate courses, let alone graduate courses, has opened up an opportunity for University Presses to publish in this segment. And because of the mission they do not charge $300 for a book. It is one of the joys of working for a university press.

In fairness to the large (Big 5) commercial publishers, they create far more than the base copy of the textbook. It is misleading to say that Cambridge and OUP don’t charge $300 for a textbook. Cambridge and OUP don’t incur the kinds of costs that the big guys do for those comprehensive texts.

Personally, I find the reference to the mission of the not-for-profits to be a shibboleth.

I’m not sure where you got your figure of 15% for Amazon’s textbook marketshare. Maybe that’s true if you include K-12, but I don’t think it’s accurate for the college text market. The graphic on the bottom of this 2012 Digital Book World article (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/students-professors-still-not-yet-ready-for-digital-textbooks/) seems to indicate that back then Bowker was reporting Amazon had a 32% marketshare and that’s below where I’m seeing our textbook sales. For us, it’s closer to 40%, and that doesn’t include the copies they’re buying from Ingram or B&T.

That campus bookstore exclusivity agreement piece is going to be a hard nut to crack. Campus bookstores are already seeing a decline in sales due to Amazon, and due to faculty members trying to find alternatives to expensive texts for their students. They are not going to be willing to cede any more ground on this issue and those contracts they have with the universities aren’t going to expire anytime soon.

That’s 15% of college textbook sales for the Big 5: Pearson, McGraw, Cengage, Wiley, and Macmillan. Amazon is more like 40-50% of trade sales, including both print and digital.

I like the idea but what you’re saying is more of a wish than a realistic course of action at present. From a publisher’s perspective (I’ve worked for several) digital textbooks are the holy grail because-in theory-they cut out the used and rental book market entirely. There’s only one, very serious problem: students don’t like them. Adoptions aren’t being blocked by college bookstores, publishers, or administrative luddites. Students overwhelmingly prefer the user experience offered by the print product. It’s an amusing paradox for so digitally savvy a generation but it’s a market reality that can’t be ignored.

Our research both with students and staff supporting our project shows this preference for print over e is waning and support for e-textbooks is increasing across a number of variables. Much of print preference I think was based on poor technology and functionality of traditional e-books and e-readers. Nowadays students increasingly want to sync across a number of devices, have the ability to annotate and share plus use search functionality. All this is not available on print books as is the case with convenience and 24/7 access. What of course must not be underestimated of course is cost. Students always prefer an institution purchasing a book over themselves and as such will henceforth also “like” the e version. For the institution and library it also delivers a number of benefits not least in directly supporting students learning needs and enabling these to be tracked and analysesd. For those interested I hope to publish these research findings in a journal article later this year. In meantime any queries then give me a shout. Dominic

> There’s only one, very serious problem: students don’t like them.

Students do not like digital textbooks because they are poorly implemented, and when copy-protected they treat the reader like a criminal.

My students prefer the online versions of their textbooks, and they consult them on their smartphones in class (which I encourage). Give it a try on your smallest device — even the complicated mathematics is readable by old eyes. And the navigation is superior — check out how the index works once liberated from page numbers as cross-references. One final observation — you can buy a 100% faithful print-on-demand hardcover version of this text for $25, but of course, without the interactive features of the online version.

http://abstract.pugetsound.edu/aata/aata.html

The assertion that students don’t like digital textbooks is suspect because the digital textbooks most frequently offered to students are so hobbled by DRM, the limitations of current eReaders and the fact that they cannot be resold.
That last point needs some elaboration. Many students pay for paper textbooks with parental or borrowed money. Sell-back puts a little “walking around” money in their pockets. They miss that with digital textbooks.
So this overly broad assertion gets repeated over and over but there are few if any ongoing efforts to understand why students don’t like certain kinds of digital textbooks. We really don’t know what students would think of an optimized digital textbook, we only have a few clues as to how they feel about the severely disabled ones. Further study is sorely needed.

Another good post, Frank.

“We really don’t know what students would think of an optimized digital textbook, we only have a few clues as to how they feel about the severely disabled ones. Further study is sorely needed.

We are doing exactly this. Should have results about September 2018.

http://utmost.aimath.org/

Hi, OER Librarian here. Another issue is that students overwhelmingly prefer print; yes, even millenials and whatever we are calling the generation after them. The fact is, students feel more comfortable with printed information and that could be a major issue.

Secondly, you had an unfortunate run in with an OER advocate. Most of us value academic freedom and honestly believe that the instructor should pick the *best* text for their course, even if that means it’s a traditional textbook. That being said, OER has come a long way in the last 5-10 years and publishers like OpenStax are putting out excellent free/open textbooks.

Finally, to combine my thoughts, the bookstore can still be involved with non-traditional textbooks. OER that is only available digitally can be printed (because of the open license) and sold for a small fee at the bookstore. The students who want it free no matter what can access it digitally. The students who learn better with a print text can purchase the print text. This can also work for the “inclusive access” model could work in a similar way.

Schools do have to get into the business of managing the digital content, and that service has been handled completely and easily by bookstores for decades, and they even receive some small share of proceeds. Professors can order for 3 or 300 students on the phone needing to know only an isbn number. Professors may not respond well to limitations on choices of content-texts being determined by the school. Students seem to separate ‘study’ from ‘activity’, and they seem to believe they study better with print than digital, and may be correct. The digital world is full of ‘activity’ and distractions and interruptions. The big publishers are all in for this model already, and they have invested heavily in building their own pipelines to deliver digital content.

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