Blended Learning, Corporate, Cost of Education, Domestic, Education Quality, Private education, Public education, Publishers, Required, Students, University & College - Written by on Monday, November 28, 2011 5:00 - 0 Comments

Heard: Digital Textbooks Reaching Tipping Point For Sales and, Now, Rentals

by zaveqna via Flickr under CreativeCommons

The New York Times published an informative story about the shift toward digital textbooks … highlighting the new trend toward renting digital textbooks! First off, here are some of the facts reporter Christopher F. Schuetze brings up in the story:

  • According to the Student Monitor, a private student market research company based in New Jersey, about 5 percent of all textbooks acquired in the autumn in the United States were digital textbooks. That is more than double the 2.1 percent of the spring semester.
  • Simba Information, a research company specializing in publishing, estimates that electronic textbooks will generate $267.3 million this year in sales in the United States. That is a rise of 44.3 percent over last year. Kathy Micky, a senior analyst at Simba, said digital textbooks were expected “to be the growth driver for the industry in the future.” Her company estimates that by 2013, digital textbooks will make up 11 percent of the textbook market revenue.
  • The American Association of Publishers estimates that the college textbooks industry generated a total of $4.58 billion in sales last year.
  • Chegg, a major paper textbook rental company in the United States, which started offering digital, downloadable books this year. It announced in August that it planned to expand to become what it called one of the most comprehensive electronic textbook retailers in the United States.
  • CourseSmart, a partnership of five major U.S. textbook publishers that offers some 90 percent of textbooks used at North American universities online, announced its intention to expand overseas this year.
  • In May, the National Association of College Stores found in a study of 655 students that 39 percent of students surveyed had used a dedicated digital reader, up from 19 percent just five months before. The association, which the represents campus retailing industry in the United States and abroad, said such results showed that a “tipping point” for digital reader technology among college students was fast approaching.
  • More than 40 million iPads have been sold worldwide, according to an Apple spokesman. Amazon does not release sales figures for its Kindle, but millions of units are thought to have been sold.
Fascinating section on digital textbook rentals

Perhaps the biggest change could come from the rise of electronic rentals. Digital textbooks can be made to expire — often between six and 18 months after the initial purchase — which means they cannot be resold like traditional books. Most digital textbooks also only license the first owner, and sophisticated software ensures that copies cannot be passed around. These measures help ensure that prices for digital textbooks stay well bellow the cost of the paper versions, publishers say, even though those who print traditional paper books might take issue with that.

“It might be a problem for the printers, but it isn’t a problem for the publishers,” said Bruce Hildebrand, who is in charge of the higher education sector at the Association of American Publishers. 

Early this summer, Amazon announced that it was partnering with three major textbook companies to offer rentals of digital textbooks for even shorter terms. When Amazon announced its program, which lets students rent a book even for 30 days, it said students could save 80 percent off the price of a new printed textbook. Amazon offers a service in which future rentals of the same textbooks will give students access to the electronic notes they stored on their device while reading the rental book. 

Via The New York Times

Our Analysis & Questions: 
Quoted in the piece: “All of our books are available as digital,” said Bruce Spatz, head of digital development at John Wiley & Sons, a major academic publisher. Here are some of our thoughts:
  • The rise of digital textbook publishing will likely create more competition among textbook publishers with large, existing players like Cengage, Pearson and John Wiley & Sons threatened by, or perhaps forced to partner with, new competitors such as CourseSmart, Chegg and others.
  • The quality of digital textbooks has to march forward. They cannot simply be PDFs of a regular textbook. Companies that improve the learning experience – with cognitive mapping, interactive features, pictures, maps etc. – will likely be winners. Otherwise, the digital textbook game is one of commoditizing and lowering prices. That’s not a bad thing for students. But doesn’t seem like a good thing for publishers.
  • The idea of renting textbooks that expire is an interesting concept, clearly an innovative one by Amazon and textbook publishers. It certainly has environmental benefits.
  • The idea of digital textbooks is fantastic for the search function. How much time did students spend in past decades flipping through a textbook looking for relevant information for an assignment or studying for an examination. The ability to search, toggle and sift through a digital document quickly and more accurately is one of the major pros of digital textbooks over printed textbooks.

Here are other recent stories by the NYT on textbooks going digital:

This one from June contradicts the more recent Time story:

This story focuses more on the high school market:







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