The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report by Jeffrey R. Young suggesting that some colleges may begin forcing a switchover to electronic textbooks in order to save students money and reduce piracy. A course-materials fee would be used to pay for the textbooks, rather than students having to go out and buy them themselves.
The article suggests leveraging the savings from the absence of printing costs to make bulk purchasing more affordable. It would also eliminate the used book market (which most print publishers hate like anything) and (proponents seem to believe) reduce piracy too.
"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."
Later, the article talks about some e-textbook experiments that have been tried already, as with e-text publisher Flat World Knowledge (whom we’ve covered a number of times).
Of course, some students will not be enthusiastic about electronic textbooks, especially since they can’t sell them at the end of the semester and get some money back. (Some manage to avoid buying them at all, thanks to libraries or other methods.) But on the other hand, if they save more money up front, that might make up for it in the end.
(Found via Slashdot.)
As one student commenter pointed out, the net cost to students (original cost minus resale cost) is the litmus test of eBook cost-effectiveness from the student perspective. Many eTexts fail this test. DRM-encumbered eBooks and eTexts cannot be sold or transferred to others. This means that the initial cost is the net cost.
There isn’t much about a text book that is unique and copyrightable. Under US law at least, one cannot copyright a fact or even an idea, only the unique expression on an idea. Thus, copyright isn’t much of a barrier.
College and university faculty, the subject matter experts, are the people who write textbooks. So, what if colleges and universities counted textbook writing as workload and credited faculty for this work in promotion and tenure decisions?
Shazam! We have DRM-free eTextbooks that are free or virtually free to students. Isn’t that a desirable goal state?
We must maintain competition and options for students. The move to digital must maintain free choice. We need competition to keep pricing honest…even digitally!