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What is Delaying Widespread Adoption of Digital Textbooks?

Apple's iBooks Author app

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

In today’s feature article,¬†George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology, predicts that 2013 will be “The Year of the Textbook.” He writes:

[I]t is widely acknowledged that the e-textbook market is yet to fulfill its promise and potential…Publishers are fully aware of the benefits of e-textbooks; the ability to easily refresh out-of-date content, functionality that allows books to be dissected, more interactive content, metrics that can measure the usefulness and popularity of resources, and of course pricing. All of this technology is available yet end user adoption levels are relatively low. Is it merely a question of students having the right technology at their fingertips and institutions buying into this method of working, which is surely just a matter of time? Or is there a wider issue preventing adoption?

What do you think is holding up the widespread adoption of digital textbooks? And will 2013 be the year that changes?

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6 Comments

  1. Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This question has a simple answer. When compared to paper textbooks, digital textbooks represent a shitty value to students.

    The only reason publishers like them is that digital textbooks can’t be resold. That undercuts the used market while also propping up the current textbook market’s overinflated prices.

  2. christian kaefer
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Part of the adoption problem has to do with what K-12 or specifically high school students are exposed to wrt digital products. They tend to be flat PDF files which add no value. So when the students gets to college; a) they don’t want a flat PDF file because they tend not to help the student and b) they have essentially grown up and learned how to use and study from the print textbook.
    Not until publishers are able to or want to provide the k-12 students with high quality, value add digital textbooks will the adoption in higher education grow.

  3. Barbara Miller
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    A couple of years ago I thought higher ed texts were on the verge of tipping.
    I was wrong. I knew texts would not be significantly less expensive or even interactive which I personally think for some subjects is unnecessay and overrated, let alone costly.
    Just plain usability as a book, the ability to flip back and forth is a major hindrance.
    Students want books to be much less expensive which may not happen.
    Some subjects can get by if necessary with books that have lighter art and design programs and do not require constant revision.

  4. Posted January 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Kindles etc are far better suited to linear reads, and that’s not how students use text books. A colour text book will have illustrations that when transferred to some devices are too small or unclear. Then there’s the issue of the open book exam, where students may be able to annotate books (fiddly with some devices) or use post-it notes to mark important sections.

  5. Michelle
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    When it comes to students and textbooks…it’s about the price, not the device. I tend to agree with that. Preferences still vary among students. Some have the devices and want digital; others still want or need to be unplugged with a print copy. I’m a fan of the publishers that are driving down costs across all formats while preserving the development process. In most cases (not all), you still need great authors, peer-reviews, sound pedagogy, and solid supplements to even get your textbook into the consider-for-adoption pile. The legacy publishers have so much to protect that affordability across all formats is a challenge for them. Bring on the new publishers with disruptive business models.

  6. Alejandro Benitez
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Your thoughts are very useful for our work in Mexico, though circumstances are very different. Here the rise of mobile technologies might be similar to the case of India, as cited by Lossius in 5 Academic Publishing Trends to Watch in 2013. On line text books haven’t been used extensively mainly because publishers haven’t created contents designed from an e-learning perspective, far beyond just puting texts as PDF.

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