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Are College Students Buying Required Textbooks? 75% in US Say No

By Publishing Perspectives

This summer, E-textbook publisher Bookboon.com conducted a survey of college students in the United States, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. In total, nearly 10,000 students completed a questionnaire found in the Bookboon student newsletter and on Facebook, consisting of eleven questions regarding the use of textbooks. And the results can’t be good news for traditional textbook publishers.

A sample of Bookboon's free e-books

In the United States, over 75% of students decide not to buy the textbooks their classes require, in large part because students find textbooks too expensive and are discouraged by the simple fact that quite often, only a few chapters from the books are needed for study.

On average, US students spend $655 per year on required textbooks. But according to the survey, more than nine out of ten students find textbooks too expensive, resulting in the 76.6% of US students who make the decision not to purchase the required books. (In the UK, the numbers are even more startling, with 83.3% of students not always buying required textbooks.)

So instead, according to the survey, students are constantly on the lookout for cheaper options, including copying the needed chapters, finding online alternatives, or, in the case of 60% of those surveyed, buying their textbooks second hand. Indeed, only 25% of students buy their textbooks new, despite the recommendation of their professors to purchase the latest editions. (The remaining 16% of students find other alternatives, including borrowing or renting the required textbooks.)

Given this, it may not be surprising to learn that 58% of college students in the US prefer digital textbooks: students find them easier to carry, to read from, and believe they are cheaper.  But on the other hand, the survey results were very different in Europe. Bookboon’s COO Thomas Buus Madsen wrote, “American students are at least a couple of years ahead of their European counterparts. In countries such as German, the UK, and the Netherlands, only 30-40% of the students prefer digital textbooks.  Most European students stick to paper. This is partly because eReaders and e-textbooks are less available. Additionally, publishers, professors and universities in Europe are less active in promoting and adopting the use of e-textbooks compared to the USA.”

Of course to put the $655 yearly price tag for textbooks into perspective, consider this: a 2011 study done by the Student Health Service of the University of Pennsylvania showed that students in the US also spend roughly $900 a year on alcohol.  Perhaps, in part, to drown out their sorrow at spending $655 on textbooks.

Read the entire survey here.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    I believe most students are just being practical when it comes to spending for school or rather their parents are being practical considering their expenses and probable savings. No matter how old a book is, it still contains the necessary content for learning which is basically the same with the newer versions. Digital books also give up to date versions that can be cheaper than brand new books. It really depends on the student how much effort they put into studying for them to learn.

  2. Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I would buy digital textbooks when going back to school. I don’t DO paper. I have a disability that when I turn the page of a book, there’s a 90% chance I will drop the book. Not so with a digital book. I carry a Kindle Fire with me, and it has over 1500 books on it, so it would be perfect. As for the cost, I don’t know if digital textbooks are cheaper, because regular books may or may not be cheaper, depending on the publisher. But it certainly would be the most current version of the book.

  3. Jaime Maynard
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I think the key point in this article is “only a few chapters from the books are needed for study.” This is just how it was when I was in college. The only books that I got my money’s worth from were novels for English classes – which are cheap, even when new. This is inexcusable, especially from teachers. Why burden students with an expensive book you will barely touch? College is already prohibitively expensive, but to spend a couple hundred on a textbook that might never be opened is just plain wrong. Digital textbooks need to become the norm – and teachers need to start using them.

  4. Posted September 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    There are a number of ways that publishers can encourage students to still spend money on their textbooks.

    Firstly, by creating digital textbooks which actually enhance the reading experience with extra features which can’t be achieved with print – e.g. saving of images as well as text and note sharing between students. Making online material shareable fits in with online social trends; lugging heavy textbooks around doesn’t.

    Secondly, with limited DRM, students are able to access their textbooks across a number of devices and start reading at school on their desktop, and then pick up their content on their tablet at home. No heavy books to carry. If this can be delivered in a way which is easier to work with than Adobe Acrobat and their Torrent downloads, then students will be encouraged to purchase their textbooks more.

    YUDU Education works with educational publishers to publish textbooks across a number of platforms, and using specific tools to help the learning experience.

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