Digital textbook use is rising, but some have reservations about the technology
EDMONTON (CUP) ? Digital textbooks may soon become the new popular learning medium as rising costs of physical textbooks drive students to look for alternatives.
Digital textbooks have seen a rise in popularity already in the United States, due to increasing numbers of books available through websites such as CourseSmart.com. Online textbook prices are, on average, 50 per cent less than their physical counterparts, according to Paul Wilde, course material manager at the University of Alberta Bookstore.
Wilde explained that parts of the inflation in bookstore textbook prices are due to the supplementary material that most publishers now package with their textbooks.
?There is a definite trend of textbook prices far exceeding the national inflation rate. The publishers will tell you that It’s the cost of production, the cost of shipping and so on, but I don’t see that. We pay the shipping for the books coming here. And when You’re talking an overall market where inflation is down 0.9 per cent, how do you justify a five to seven per cent price increase?? he said.
However, Wilde stated that until the technology catches up with the database of course material, buying used books remains a more practical option. ?From the student perspective, used books are still the best deal, mainly for the reason that with a new book you have the option of reselling it or keeping it. There is no residual used book value for a digital textbook,? he said.
Leah Trueblood, vice president (academic) of the UofA Students’ Union, said that she believes that digital textbooks are a cost-effective option compared to physical textbooks, but has reservations on how user-friendly the technology currently is.
?As we see new instruments becoming usable, we will see prices of textbooks go down and I think we will see the industry change. But in terms of right now, I don’t think things like CourseSmart will make a large impact,? she said.
Trueblood stated that other options are still available to students with other forms of textbook purchase. The UofA Students’ Union sponsors the website BeBooksmart.ca, which was created for the purpose of giving students affordable options when purchasing textbooks. This includes research done on popular new editions to determine the amount of relevant changes made in comparison to previous editions?making it easy for students to find out if they can save a dollar without losing knowledge by buying a used old edition of a textbook.
The UofA Students’ Union is also involved with The Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, which includes bookstores and students’ unions across Canada, in order to find ways of curtailing rising book costs.
Should the demand for virtual textbooks increase, Wilde says the bookstore has the digital infrastructure to provide the service to students. ?It’s going to take the stores that are more tech savvy and [have] the digital infrastructure to deliver the content, but yes, the bookstore is prepared,? he said.