The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Digital Textbooks Growing, But Slowly

Does the future of higher education textbooks lie in digital? If so, then that future’s still a ways off, according to data gathered by Verba, which developed software allowing campus stores to let their customers view competitors’ prices on course materials.

Jared Pearlman, co-founder of Verba, shared the findings of his company’s data-gathering in the session Data-Driven Strategies for Course Materials at CAMEX 2015 in Atlanta, GA. Verba tracked actual textbook purchases made by students through the Compare software and found that sales of e-books doubled in the past year, but still only accounted for 2.42% of total textbook sales.

“Digital is still too expensive but, overall, we’re seeing some changes in the marketplace,” Pearlman said. Those changes may bring prices down.

In cases where students have a choice between a used print book or an e-book, about half the time the used book is cheaper than the digital, he noted.

Most academic e-books are available only as rentals. On average, a digital rental is five times more likely to cost more than a print rental, Pearlman said. As a result, print rental “outperforms digital by seven-and-a-half times,” he said.

But there’s a potential game-changer in the works, according to Pearlman: inclusive access pricing, also known as academic content licensing, subscription model, text with tuition, course-fee model, and 100% sell-through model. This involves providing each student with digital access to the required textbook for a fee, which may be folded into tuition, that’s discounted from the usual retail price because the publisher and store are guaranteed sales for the entire class.

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