Chronicle Of Higher Education / September 7 2009 / Jeffrey R. Young
Arizona State is one of seven universities participating in a closely watched e-textbook experiment supported by Amazon. It is gaining attention in part because this academic year marks the first time that major textbook publishers have offered a critical mass of their titles in electronic form. CourseSmart, a spinoff company started by major textbook publishers in 2007 to sell their electronic versions, now offers 7,150 titles. That's over half of the most popular textbook titles from the participating publishers.
Students can read them on laptops and desktops, and the company recently unveiled a free application that lets students read textbooks on their iPhones. Several textbook publishers are making titles available on Amazon's new Kindle DX. And last month, Sony released a new Sony Reader e-book device that can download textbooks wirelessly.
Publishers say they just want to offer customers choices, and appeal to today's students, who have never known a world without laptops and the Internet. It's worth noting, though, that the publishers stand to benefit from the format switch. [snip].
Amazon, the newest entrant to the e-textbook marketplace, quickly added textbooks to its online library this summer. Officials acknowledge that earlier versions of the Kindle were not ready for school, since its screen was too small for illustrations and tables. The new Kindle DX has a screen more comparable to the dimensions of a textbook.
The Kindle tryout seems to have sparked student interest at other colleges as well. Kate Gaertner, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, was inspired to write an essay for her student newspaper about the idea after reading about the project in The New York Times. She argued that her university should "push for paperless textbooks" as part of its effort to reduce its environmental impact.
If e-textbooks catch on, however, publishers may see a rise in online piracy. Filching digital textbooks does not yet appear to be widespread: ... .
One textbook publisher simply gives away online copies of textbooks, in the hope that enough students will still opt to buy print copies. That's the business plan of Flat World Knowledge Inc., which says it has persuaded 400 professors to try its books this semester. Eric Frank, chief marketing officer, says those who adopt the textbooks in their courses can make changes to customize them. [snip]
Eric Weil, managing partner at Student Monitor, predicts that electronic textbooks will probably turn out to be just one option rather than a widespread replacement for printed textbooks. Some students will prefer the features of electronic versions, while others will be willing to pay a little more for hard copies. "It's going to be different strokes for different folks," he says.