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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Higher Ed's Digital Use is Underestimated

“If you still think digital course materials are three to five years away, then you’re already five to six years behind.”

That was Mark Nelson’s message to the college bookstore audience at his Digital Update educational session Feb. 22 at the 2013 Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) in Kansas City, MO. Nelson, chief information officer at NACS and vice president of NACS Media Solutions, disputed the notion that digital has been slow to take root in higher education.

Although many campus stores sell very few digital textbooks and report there is scant interest in electronic course materials at their institutions, Nelson contended that’s hardly the whole picture.

Digital is much more prevalent in higher education than many people realize, he said, in part because they tend to think of “digital” as merely a PDF equivalent of a print textbook and don’t count things such as online tutoring tools, adaptive learning programs, and course management systems.

“About a third of the revenues for the two largest textbook publishers are now from digital products and services,” Nelson said. MyMathLab, Pearson’s interactive web-based course supplement to its math and statistics books, “outsells the best print textbook three to one,” he added.

“Most digital business is native digital products or digital-born products that were never print,” he said. Traditional textbook publishers are developing many of these products and services, along with a rapidly growing roster of companies moving into digital content distribution for the first time. “A lot of new players, a lot,” Nelson emphasized.

He also took issue with reports that students would choose print textbooks over digital, saying that’s no longer a major factor. “A preference for print is not driving purchases any more,” he said.

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