Wondering when digital will finally take off for textbooks? Well, if inventory (i.e., availability of a digital version of a print book) is currently a barrier, that will soon be changing. California has passed legislation mandating that companies which sell textbooks to California universities must offer digital versions by 2020. Of course, most companies will be compliant with that requirement long before that deadline, but it does establish an end date for the problem.
What this means is that if you are a bookseller serving a college or university in the state of California you can expect that 100% of the print books you sell will have an alternative digital option available in less than a decade. It also means that if the content is available for California, it is likely going to be available in every other state as well. Therefore, if you are not currently getting experience selling, marketing, and delivering e-books, then you are probably already giving up market share, and will certainly do so in the future. If your store cannot offer digital, then your competitors will (and in some cases already are).
We now have a more definitive deadline: a decade at maximum. Waiting 9 years and 11 months to prepare would not be good business strategy. One could liken this to a tsunami, which may not be all that visible until it gets closer to shore. We may see warning signs, such as the tide pulling out to dramatic levels. Early warning beacons may go off. Waiting around on the beach to see what might happen next is probably not a good idea, no matter how sunny the sky may seem today. We have all the lessons from other industries around us which gives book retailers the best chance of survival in the face of digital. Relying on a future of just print does not serve our customers, and does not position a store for continued success. We have a decade at most before our tsunami hits -- and that is if you estimate VERY conservatively.
So, what are you doing to prepare for digital textbooks today? (Seriously, we would like to hear.)