College students weary of dropping as much as $900 a year on textbooks may have a new option this semester: E-books.
Ten colleges and universities around the country are experimenting with selling electronic textbooks in their bookstores this fall. The e-books, which sell for 33 percent less than regular textbooks, are downloaded directly into students’ computers.
At the Princeton University Store, students shopping for their fall classes may have their choice of new book, a used book or a small plastic card with an access code that allows them to download the text via a Web site.
The staff at the Princeton U-Store are waiting to see how many students bypass the traditional paper textbooks for the e-book cards when classes start next week.
“We have them on the shelves next to the textbooks so people can choose right there,” said Virginia France, the store’s marketing director. “It’s too soon to tell whether they are going to buy them.”
Other schools whose bookstores are offering e-books include: Bowling Green State University in Ohio, California State University at Fullerton, Georgetown College in Kentucky, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Morehead State University in Kentucky, Portland Community College in Oregon, West Virginia University, University of Oregon and University of Utah.
Though electronic textbooks have been available through some publishers and online sites for years, this is the first semester campus bookstores are offering the option on a large scale. If the pilot project is successful, e-books are expected to gradually spread to campus bookstores around the nation by next year.
But don’t expect traditional hard-cover textbooks to disappear anytime soon, said Jeffrey Cohen, advertising and promotions manager for MBS Textbook Exchange, the Missouri textbook distributor overseeing the pilot project.
“The printed book is not going anywhere. It’s existed for hundred of years,” Cohen said. “There is no intention by the publishers to stop printing.”
There are currently about 200 textbooks available in digital form. Princeton is offering 10 e-book titles this semester.
Part of the problem is textbook prices rose at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades. Publishers helped inflate prices by “bundling,” the industry term for adding CD-ROMs, workbooks and other supplemental materials to textbooks, according to a report by the federal Government Accountability Office released last month.
It is unclear whether digital textbooks will really save students money.
At Princeton, for example, students taking a senior level economics course are required to buy “Investments,” a popular textbook published by McGraw Hill. It sells for $136 new, $101 used or $89.90 in electronic form at the Princeton U-Store.
Though it is significantly cheaper to buy the e-book, students may lose money in the long run because they cannot sell the digital textbook at the end of the semester. The Princeton bookstore pays as much as 50 percent of the cover price to buy back the paper version of some popular textbooks, the store’s marketing director said.
Digital textbooks also come with restrictions. E-books must be downloaded and read on a single computer and cannot be copied to classmates’ computers. The text is available for viewing for a limited time, usually 12 months or so. And the entire text cannot be printed at once, to discourage students from making paper copies for friends.
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