According to a recent article, the Wiley e-textbook pilot at the University of Texas at Austin began on January 20. The pilot includes free e-textbooks for 1300 students enrolled in six different classes, in an effort to test how useful e-textbooks are for faculty and students. Additionally, for students that prefer a physical copy of the text, the campus store will print any textbook at a cost of 1.5 cents per page. As noted in a previous posting, the university is providing the content via an institutional licensing model and therefore the content will only be free initially. If the program is successful, students could pay $25-45 a book in licensing fees.
The article also provides some commentary from Michael Granof, chairman of the University Co-op, who fears that if the program continues after the pilot and the university takes responsibility for supplying the e-textbooks, it could undermine the viability of the co-op bookstore. He explains, “There's no reason for a university to get involved with licensing. If a publisher has an e-book available, the instructor can put the link to the book on the course Web site and the student can click the link and buy the book from the Co-op, just as they would for any other book they bought.”
For institutions that decide to digitally license content and provide e-textbooks via this method, the impact to campus stores and institutions could be significant. Since profit earned by many stores goes back into the institution to support things like financial aid or student services, licensing models could have a double financial impact for institutions (and students) – creating new costs on one side, while reducing the revenue available to cover those costs and others on the flip side. If the rising cost of content licensing in the library is any indicator, licensing solutions for institutions on the textbook side are likely to only yield a short-term cost savings for students.