Forbes published an article outlining McGraw-Hill’s intention to raise the sale number of e-books in higher education. The problem they face is that students at the university and college level prefer print books over the electronic version (only 3% of the students are buying electronic editions). The company hopes that by introducing lower cost e-books more students will buy the books that their professor’s are assigning and that more money will go to the publishers if they are not sharing or buying second hand copies.
I do not find the number of students using e-books “puzzling low”. Students will choose what they are used to, and will not buy additional technology for content that would be the same in print format. Before buying the e-book, the student would first have to buy the device. The article does not differentiate between e-books, which are readable on Kindles, Kobos, Nooks etc., and enhanced e-books which are used on tablets, smart-phones etc. While both are readable on the computer, the positive aspect of not having to lug a weighty textbook to class is no longer there. Having heard from a representative from McGraw-Hill Canada, I understand the electronic book to mean an enhanced e-book. The regular e-book would not allow for the same degree of annotations, bookmarks etc. So, before the student can buy the electronic copy of their text, they need to put down the money to buy the iPad or whatever other latest and greatest is out there. Yet, if the e-book, enhanced or not, is not offering the student anything more than the print copy, why would they make that commitment?
Besides, it is unrealistic to think that students will not find a way to share these electronic formats with one another, taking away the sales from the publishers once again. Sharing online may in fact be easier than sharing the printed version because students can spread their copy while keeping one of their own. There are also a number of services that the bookstores on university and college campuses facilitate to help their students pay less money for their print book. At my university, the bookstore ran the exchange of second-hand books, as well as a program for renting books, which allowed students to pay a smaller fee to use a textbook for a certain period of time.
The ultimate goal appears to be making the content more accessible to students. Yet, the implication that students will be ‘forced’ to buy these electronic books contradicts this goal. Not everyone learns the same way, and while the electronic format may benefit some, it could be a hindrance to others. One students may see all the extra additions as interactive, and another may see it as a distraction. Personally, I am glad I graduated before these electronic textbooks were enforced, I would certainly have been one of the distracted students wanting to print the material myself rather than stare at the screen for too long. Moreover, the idea that students who don’t buy textbooks are going to put the money toward e-books is equally unrealistic. In my own experience there was only one textbook in my entire university education that I did not buy and it had nothing to with the expense. I was told that it would not add any benefit to my learning experience in that class. I’m sure there are cases where students are refraining from buying their textbooks because of the costs, but universities have set up programs to aid students in this area – even the library had one or two copies of the textbooks available for a time constrained loan.
The issue then becomes that the publishing of these e-books cannot be thought of as solutions to the problems presented in the article and in order to be successful there needs to be supplemental information. However, if new information is introduced exclusively for those using the electronic versions, those who prefer the printed books will be at a disadvantage. This would certainly mean they were forcing students to use the electronic versions which is incredibly unfair. While not profitable for the publishers, in the best interest of the students, information should be available in both formats.