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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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