A few articles published recently discuss the e-textbook trial to be conducted at the University of Texas at Austin this spring. The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that during the trial initiative the university will cover the cost of electronic materials for 1000 students enrolled in courses such as accounting, marketing, chemistry and biochemistry. University officials hope that this experiment will relieve some of the financial burden associated with the cost of textbooks. Keven Hegarty, UT’s vice president and chief financial officer noted, “Because of the cost of books, 20 percent of students can’t or won’t buy the text.” Hegarty went on to say, “If we can improve this model and get enough professors and publishers interested, we can drive textbook costs down to half…what the average student spends on printed textbooks.” It is probably important to note that the e-books will only initially be free, and that this is an institutional licensing model, meaning that the institution is paying for the content via license. Eventually they will pass some or all of that cost back to students. As noted in the article:
Tentatively dubbed the e-book initiative, UT will pay for electronic copies of textbooks for students in certain classes, starting in the spring. The initiative treats the e-books, which students can download onto their computers, like software, for which UT pays a licensing fee. Initially, students in those classes will use the e-books for free. If the program, which campus and industry officials say has been tried at other schools, is successful, students would pay $25 to $40 a book in licensing fees.
Additionally, during the e-textbook trial, the campus store will print bound copies of the text on demand for those students who choose to opt out of the free e-textbook offer in favor of a printed copy. The cost for each printed copy is estimated to be between $20-40 as noted in an article posted by Inside Higher Ed.
Another article published by Ars Technica, also points out the substantial savings that students at the university could see with the use of e-textbooks. According to UT’s financial aid website, the students spend about $409 a semester for books therefore students could potentially save over 75% by going digital. This article also credits NACS digital distribution initiative however it incorrectly states that textbooks will only be delivered via kiosk and fails to mention the web-based component. A correction notice has been submitted to the article discussion site.