Recently, there were a set of questions on one of our discussion lists about ebooks. Below are some of the questions and portions of our response. We could have entered a lot more information in response to some of the questions, but felt there were other venues where this information would be getting covered over the next month or so.
Q. Which e-reader model is your store/school using?
Several schools have implemented pilots to test out the Sony Readers, Amazon Kindle DX, and Apple iPhone. Many new devices are hitting the market and more pilots will be initiated as the devices become available. For example, some schools are already looking to provide the Entourage Edge and the new Apple iPad. There are a number of other lesser-known devices also being market tested at small sets of schools, or being sold through a small set of stores. Below is a list of some of the pilots that have taken place.
· Blyth Academy high school in Canada issued Sony Readers to all of its students in place of printed textbooks
· Northwest Missouri State conducted a pilot with Sony Readers and e-textbooks for laptops
· Seven colleges/universities participated in the Amazon Kindle DX pilot including: Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton University, Reed College, University of Washington, and Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia
· University of Wisconsin-Madison initiated its own Kindle DX pilot
· Abilene Christian University was the first university to provide incoming freshman with an iPhone or iPod Touch device.
A word of caution on e-books at the moment - a key barrier to e-books (temporarily) will be ADA compliance. This became very evident with the Kindle pilots. The National Foundation for the Blind issued letters to nearly every college/university president and/or college store in the US warning that their approach to seeking compliance with digital textbooks will be different than it has been with the print equivalent. They were successful in a settlement related to the Kindle pilot; and some of the schools who participated were effectively banned by the US Justice Department from engaging in further use of e-readers until those devices were ADA compliant. Now, that barrier will be gone in most cases by this June, but you may want to make certain that a device is ADA compliant before you stock it if it is going to be used for textbooks.
Q. How long have you been using it?
Most e-readers have been on the market for less than a year. The first "commercially viable" models appeared in 2008, where roughly 1 million units were sold in the US. Most of the first generation readers were targeted toward heavy readers of trade books. We do know of some campuses that started to experiment with them as early as Fall 2008, and at least one who has been selling readers since Spring 2009. The first generation of e-readers have a number of limitations that do not make them effective for textbook usage. The second generation (and new class) of e-readers are multi-function devices (e.g., the Apple iPad or the Entourage Edge). These devices are just coming onto the market, so no stores are likely to be selling them yet. Stores selling netbooks would probably have the most relevant comparable experience.
Q. Comments from your students and faculty, positive/negative?
Comments from students and faculty involved in the Kindle DX pilots mentioned above were mixed. Some of the positive and negative comments included:
. E Ink screen looks like paper and does not strain eyes
. Large amount of content available without carrying several books
. Built-in dictionary
. Ability to save paper
. Depending how the e-textbooks are priced in comparison to the print, students may be able to save money on textbooks over time
. Can not interact with a Kindle text in the same way as a print text - Ability to bookmark, highlight, tear pages, use sticky notes or make marks to represent the importance of a passage have been lost or are too slow to keep up with thinking
. "Clunky," "slow," and "difficult to operate"
. Device requires charging
. Kindle annotation software is not as easy to use as taking notes on paper
. Lack of a touch-screen
. Small keyboard
Again, note that these comments were based on the first generation of e-reader devices which were really tailored for trade book reading. For several reasons we will not go into here, Amazon was pushed to release a device for textbook pilots before they were ready. Many companies followed those pilots, and learned from them. The big difference in the next set of devices coming out over the next few months is that many of these were designed more with the textbook in mind from the start. There are several major technology players getting ready to enter this space, plus some new startups, so expect to see a device later in the year that can provide a far more robust experience for the textbook consumer. The current pros and cons likely will not apply by the time summer arrives.
Q. Are you still selling paper textbooks as well?
While digital textbook sales may still be low, the sales will increase as new devices become available and publishers work to enhance the digital reading experience. Recently it was announced that textbook publishers McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, and Pearson, are working with an e-reader app developer called ScrollMotion to turn their textbooks into applications for the Apple iPad. The applications will enhance the reading experience by allowing students to play videos, highlight text, record lectures, take notes, search the text, and participate in interactive quizzes.
Yes. Just about everyone is. For stores selling e-books, the current average sell-through on units is about 2.8 to 3 percent. Best cases are often around 6 or 7 percent. There have been a couple rare cases with much higher unit sell-through in a particular class. With a device out this year, we expect to see this number begin to climb. Since the better devices will not be out until summer, most students will not have one for the fall semester, but expect penetration of devices to grow each year going forward, with a potential for over 50-75 percent device adoption within 4-5 years if traditional technology adoption patterns for college students apply and price point trends also follow the normal curve. Thus, as device penetration increases, e-book and e-textbook sales should also increase. Expect to see larger numbers in 2011 and beyond.
Interesting, by multiple studies by different groups, roughly HALF of students do not know if their campus bookstore or campus library offers digital. So if you are offering digital, your sales could improve greatly if the digital were marketed better. Also, our most recent research suggests that far less than the majority of stores are offering digital - and those who are rely mostly on hang tags, which are an inadequate substitute to other business models. In the next issue of InCITE from NACS Media Solutions we will provide some industry trend data on ecommerce and e-book sales and comment on the existing models in usage.
Q. How many paper textbooks vs. e-books are you selling?
As noted above, e-books make up about 2.8 to 3 percent of unit sales on average for most stores who sell digital. That statistic is for class sections where digital is an option, not for unit sales as a whole, since even for stores that do offer digital many titles are not available in a digital format.
Q. Do e-books only work for certain e-readers?
Great question. In some cases yes. This is another barrier to adoption for students. Currently ebooks are available from several different sources, and each may employ different standards, formats, or readers (software-based or hardware-based). In some cases these are proprietary - such as the format currently used by Amazon for the Kindle. Many others are moving toward supporting open standards, such as .epub and Adobe formats. That said, even though many readers support these formats, they may still require (or prefer) file versions that have been optimized to that particular device. Therefore, as an example, while a particular reader might support epub, they will want you to purchase specific files that have been reformatted to optimize the reading experience for their device. Because many features common to textbooks (tables, indexes, etc.) are not yet standardized in epub formats, the content may look different from one device to another.
Q. How do you purchase e-books, from the publisher?
There are a variety of ways to purchase e-books, and expect a variety of additional options over the next few months. Now that the device wars are in full swing, the platform wars are going to begin to heat up. Expect a growing number of choices from which you can source your content, and a dizzying array of terms and options. We hope to simplify some of this as we get closer to the fall, but that is all we can say at the moment.
Q. Now that I have done some more research I am wondering if e-books are the way to start until e-readers take off and are more textbook friendly.
This would be my recommendation. Most students who currently read or purchase e-textbooks consume that content on a laptop or desktop computer. There are other software-based reading environments (like CaféScribe and VitalSource) that may further enhance the textbook experience in the laptop/desktop environment.
Q. We have currently not sold e-books through our store so I am wondering if your students like the e-book option to have on their laptop vs. an actual paper copy.
Data on this is very mixed. Most studies seem to agree that students still prefer paper to digital currently. Digital versions often do not meet student expectations -- typically due to lack of interactivity; students do not want linear “pdf” versions of their traditional textbooks. Some research has shown that students prefer the print to read from, but the digital to study from, meaning that they use the two formats in different ways. At least one study has shown that students would be willing to pay extra (up to 17% more on average) to get both the print and digital version of the textbook rather than just one or the other. In a recent study of over 12,000 students, it was found that about a quarter would buy the digital option if it were completely their choice. However, lack of inventory and the use of print by faculty, in addition to other factors, lead them to not buy the digital. There seems to be a lack of congruity between student preferences and student buying patterns when it comes to digital textbooks currently.
Q. How long do they usually get to keep the book for?
This varies greatly on the publisher, the book, the source from which you access the content, and the business models applied. Many are limited to 180 or 360 days, or perhaps longer for books that are typically used over 2 or 3 semesters. The refund policies on digital also vary depending on whether or not the file has been opened or how much of the content has been viewed or printed. There is currently no salvage value to most digital options, meaning that there is no buyback or refund at the point of file expiration. That means that most digital options are more short term rentals than outright purchases. No real ownership rights are transferred to students as they are with the sale of a physical book.
Q. Are students able to share one copy of the e-book or do they each have to purchase their own copy?
In most cases they must purchase their own. Although it might be possible for students to share a computer, and thus a book. As e-reader devices proliferate, this might become easier – or perhaps no more difficult than it is for students to share printed copies of books now.
I am sure that stores out there have many other questions, or could add additional feedback. Feel free to post them here or send us a message directly.