Sunday, December 09, 2007

Print vs. Electronic Textbooks

Click on the title to this post to read an article from the business section of today’s Boston Globe, written by Bruce Mohl about the emerging market for digital college textbooks. By offering the e-book year-long license for about half the cost of print, publishers of college textbooks are carving a market. At least one competitor in the new market, CafeScribe, offers ownership rather than a license. Besides costing less, the article points out the e-book weighs a great deal less than the print version – two reasons students are moving to the e-books. Part of the article discusses the uneasiness of campus bookstores with this new, direct selling market.

CourseSmart LLC, a new company backed by the nation's biggest textbook publishers, is betting that many tech-savvy students looking to save some money will select the e-textbook.

The Belmont, Calif., company is still in beta, refining its digital-book format and its business model. It offers about 2,000 e-textbooks now and hopes to have far more by next fall. But already CourseSmart is attracting considerable attention, particularly from college bookstores, which earn most of their revenue selling new and used textbooks and fear the publishers will sell directly to students and elbow them aside.

The National Association of College Bookstores issued a statement to its members last month saying it had directed its general counsel to review the antitrust implications of CourseSmart and the potential for the publishers to exercise "unreasonable control over the release and pricing of digital assets to the higher education marketplace."

Frank Lyman, executive vice president for marketing and business development at CourseSmart, said bookstores will continue to play a vital role in the textbook market, but he acknowledged the relationship between publishers and bookstores is changing.

Publishers are "not looking to cut out the bookstores, but certainly there's some shaking out of their relationship that's going to happen as we migrate to digital," he said.
The article interviews students about their experiences. While many said it was an adjustment using an e-book to study, they usually said they would buy another, given the convenience of simply downloading the text, cost savings, the lighter weight and a perceived environmental savings. The writer mentions the ability to make marginal notes in the e-books, but none of the students listed that as an advantage. The digital books are also attractive to publishers:
CourseSmart is attractive to its member publishers because it allows them to sell books without the costs of producing and distributing them. It also allows the publishers to save money on faculty review copies of textbooks. Instead of mailing hundreds of thousands of textbooks to professors across the country, the publishers can now make the textbooks available for electronic review on CourseSmart.


Marie S. Newman said...

Sounds like a good idea to me. In my last semester of law school, when I was pregnant and commuting to law school via mass transit, I actually took to cutting up my textbooks and carrying with me only the chunks I needed during a particular week. I hated doing it, but simply couldn't carry around four or five heavy textbooks in my backpack.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Marie,
Your ingenious (if shocking) idea of cutting up your big casebooks reminds me hearing that some mountain climbing teams share a book this way. They cut it up into pieces and pass it around. Everybody has something to read, and nobody has to carry a whole book. I always wondered how that worked -- I would guess they read short stories, maybe. It would be a lousy way to share something like a mystery!