Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

E-Textbooks Are Coming: Are We Ready?

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

E-Textbooks Are Coming: Are We Ready?

Article excerpt


The textbook is the most widely used instructional material for content dissemination. A traditional textbook is a professionally printed four-color hard-bound book. However, textbook options have expanded via digital content and electronic delivery mechanisms. Many believe that electronic textbooks are poised to become prevalent in the college classroom. Proponents readily cite the advantages of e-textbooks: widespread accessibility, interactivity, increased visual appeal and dynamic linking to supplemental materials. However, for educators, assessing the pedagogical value of e-textbooks is essential. This paper explores the current state of the e-textbook market, examines the issues surrounding adoption of e-textbooks in higher education and compares student performance in two sections of an online course, one using an e-text and another using a paper-based text. The digital age is transforming the textbook market and more and more content is being made available in electronic formats. Further, external pressures are driving a movement toward the adoption of electronic textbooks as a way to cut costs. However, the educational benefit of employing e-textbooks has yet to be established. More research and faculty involvement in assessing these resources is needed.

E-Textbook Market and Demand

Electronic textbooks have been on the market for more than a decade. Today, most popular textbook titles are available electronically. However, the adoption of the electronic text in higher education has been slow to materialize. The 2010 Campus Computing Project, which tracks information technology in American higher education, reported that electronic texts were used in 3.5% of classes with market research reporting that e-textbook purchases accounted for only 2% of textbook sales in 2009 (Kolowich, 2010). While many campuses are experimenting with various e-text options and many college bookstores are offering an e-text alternative, no definitive upward trend in adoption has emerged. Some predict that this is about to change. The latest Simba Information report, E-textbooks in Higher Education (2010) predicts that that the e-text market will grow at a rate of 49% through 2013 when e-texts will account for 11% of all textbooks sold. The report attributes the sudden upswing in e-textbook sales to the explosive growth of e-reader devices and e-book apps for smaller computing devices such as tablet PCs and Apple's iPad. The results of the 2010 Campus Computing Survey support this prediction. More than 86% of the respondents agreed that e-book content and e-book readers will be important components of the instructional resource arena in five years (Campus Computing Project, 2010).

Cost is the primary driver of the e-textbook market. Textbook price increases have been staggering. The average price of a textbook rose 186% between 1986 and 2005 (Young, 2010) and for the last three years, prices have increased an average of 7.5% per year (Boroughs, 2010). According to the College Board's 2010 annual survey of the trends in college pricing, the average pubic university student spends US$1122 a year on course materials. Some campuses have even reported that the cost of textbooks has exceeded the cost of tuition (Young, 2010). In the United States, the issue has become political. The Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Workforce cites that the committee receives more mail about textbook prices than any other issue. While federal legislation has not been written, the committee is investigating ways in which textbooks can be made more affordable, and university faculty and administrators are being encouraged to participate in these endeavors (Powers, 2006).

Electronic texts are generally cheaper to produce than printed texts (Baumann, 2010). The National Association of College Stores (NACS) tracks the breakdown of hard-copy textbook costs. Approximately 22. …

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