College textbooks are expensive. College officials, interested in helping to reduce the costs of textbooks for students, are looking at e-textbooks as a potential solution. Five universities: Cornell University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin, recently announced plans for a pilot program to implement the joint purchasing of e-textbooks this spring. Students will pay a course materials fee to the university, which in turn will make bulk e-textbook purchases at discounted prices for their student body.
e-textbooks are beginning to make a lot of sense.
Students, faculty and publishers may all benefit from widespread use of e-textbooks. Students can save money, as e-books cost less than a printed text. They can download books rather than wait in long lines and lug stacks of heavy books home from the student bookstore each semester. Faculty members have quick access to compare books for inclusion in their curriculum. Publishers would receive large orders for educational materials, without the expense of printing traditional textbooks.
In 2009, Amazon participated in the first e-textbook experiment with seven universities, marking the beginning of this logical shift as consumers, and the youth market in particular, became more accustomed to using electronic resources and devices. In 2011 Amazon’s digital book sales surpassed their physical book sales for the first time, while paper still dominates the textbook market. Electronic textbooks sales accounted for less than 3% of the US textbook market in 2010, though is expected to grow to 11% by 2013.
Apple recently entered the e-textbook competition with three free pieces of educational software: iBooks2 for downloading textbooks; iBooks Author, a program for creating and customizing books and iTunes U, an app for instructors to share course materials with students. The sale of more than 40 million iPads worldwide will likely impact the e-textbook market.
A strong advantage of e-texbooks is that they can be easily updated by publishers, keeping information current. Additionally, animated 3D models can replace 2D illustrations, videos can be integrated, glossaries and dictionaries are a swipe away, and features such as key word search, all enhance the educational experience and add interactivity.
The environmental debate
E-textbooks may also prove to be the environmentally friendly choice, though the issue is still being debated. The publishing industry is responsible for the consumption of hundreds of millions of trees each year – only one aspect of the industry’s massive carbon footprint, which includes raw materials, printing, shipping and disposal of returned or faulty books.
While e-books don’t require paper or shipping, the readers are made of plastic with other toxic materials in their circuitry and do require energy to run. Electronic devices quickly become obsolete as new technology improves. A multi-use device, such as the iPad, which is used for more than just books, may improve the environmental impact of e-books. According to the Green Press Initiative reading 40-50 e-books on one electronic device neutralizes the carbon footprint difference between a physical book and the electronic version – so the avid e-reader scores best.
Ultimately the greenest solution is likely to be used text books. The trees used are already dead, and a book, which can last hundreds of years, can finally be recycled at the end of its days.
Whether electronic textbooks will become just another option or a replacement for printed textbooks remains to be seen, but the momentum toward digital everything is here to stay.