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Colleges Switching to E-Textbooks to Save Students Money

A report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, about pilot programs that will reduce the cost of college courses by using e-textbooks instead of regular books:

The real champions of the change are the college officials signing the deals. They say they felt compelled to act after seeing students drop out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average prices rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year far faster than inflation. “When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something’s wrong,” says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. “Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent.”

The idea is that instead of forcing students to obtain the books individually, each student would be charged a flat fee that’s dramatically lower than what they would otherwise pay. Of course, using e-textbooks introduces a whole new set of problems. As the article points out, many professors make their own books part of their courses. What are the ethics of a professor essentially having the ability to force people to buy her book? Furthermore, there are numerous advantages that physical books posses over e-books, advantages that are amplified in the textbook realm.

Still, any initiative that tries to allow more people to get a college education is one I can get behind. I wish them the best of luck, and I’m sure the industry will be monitoring them closely.

[Also, kudos to the Chronicle on the ridiculously hyperbolic title, not that I’ve never done something similar before.]

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the link, especially since I am partially responsible for the high price of textbooks. But as the cost of production has been driven down over the past decade with outsourcing in places like India and China (a book that was comp set at $25 a page 8 years ago can be set for $5 a page or less today; indexing rates have fallen from $5+ a page to maybe $2.25), I have always wondered where that saved money is going.

    But as regards this concern: "What are the ethics of a professor essentially having the ability to force people to buy her book?" It's not high school; you're not assigned a teacher. You choose your classes, so why would you choose a class with a professor whose book you're unwilling to read…or, frankly, haven't already read?

  • Ryan

    "What are the ethics of a professor essentially having the ability to force people to buy her book?"

    This has always been an issue. I don't see how it relates to converting to eBooks.

  • @Ryan

    1) You should read the article.

    2) Under the old model, students had the ability to avoid buying books through a variety of means. A professor could assign her book in a class, but that didn't mean the student had to buy it. Under this new e-book model, they'll be forced to pay no matter what.

  • Ryan

    I should have read the article…

    He said sheepishly…