Digital course materials was among the hot topics—if not the hottest topic—for campus bookstore attendees at the 2016 Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) in Houston, TX. (Produced by NACS, CAMEX opened last Friday, March 4, and continues through March 8.)
For campus stores, “digital” covers the gamut: PDFs, e-books, electronic coursepacks, access codes, online labs, content delivered through the school’s learning management system, adaptive learning products, and more. Nearly all stores sell the access codes if their faculty have chosen those materials for their classes, but it’s a mixed bag for other forms of digital materials.
While some stores said they’re experimenting with the course-fee model for selected classes—which enables stores to negotiate a much lower cost for digital materials with publishers in exchange for 100% sell-through in the class—others said they are running into some roadblocks. Among the hurdles to more widespread adoption of digital course materials are:
Many textbook titles aren’t available in digital format, especially older titles. Publishers are reluctant to invest in converting backlist titles that only a few faculty are still using, preferring to put money into developing new materials that can incorporate the best features of digital technology.
Providers of digital works are not fully compatible with all of the major point-of-sale (POS) systems used by campus stores, hampering stores’ ability to sell and distribute digital materials to students. Most providers are working with publishers and POS manufacturers to resolve this, but it’s taking time.
Many faculty and students are still not entirely comfortable using solely digital materials. A growing number of students prefer to have both print and digital forms of the same textbook, so that they can easily study in their dorm or home from the print but access the digital in class on their laptop. Students will buy or rent just the digital if it’s cheaper than other options. Faculty are more willing to try digital materials if they see students will save money.
Digital is not always cheaper to produce than print. In addition, for many textbooks, the cost to rent a print copy for the term is less than the digital option.
Some digital materials must be acquired directly from the publisher, creating problems for students on financial aid or who don’t have credit cards.