The Writing On The Wall For Print Textbooks

kindle-pileOver the weekend Ypulse friend Derek Baird drew our attention to a recent proposal encouraging the implementation of e-textbooks across the country titled A Kindle in Every Backpack: A Proposal for eTextbooks in American Schools. As of late we’ve seen uneven progress on this front: An ambitious push in California by Governor Schwarzenegger to introduce digital textbooks to high schools, a New England prep school entirely replacing its traditional library of 20,000 books with 18 e-readers, and, of course, Amazon’s own on-campus promotion of the course-material friendly Kindle DX at select universities this fall. Overall its enough momentum to raise an old question, with added emphasis: Is this the year of e-textbooks?

A look at recent research from Ypulse Insights (summarized at length by Ypulse president Dan Coates here on MediaPost, reg. required) shows  collegians undoubtedly still struggling with both the financial and physical burden of their course loads. The overwhelming majority of college students (92%) agree with the statement, “Textbooks are too expensive” while, little more than one in 10 (12%) agrees with the statement “Textbooks represent good value for money.” And while students agree with statements like, “Textbooks are relevant to the courses I take”,  grievances with unnecessary heft  and a lack of searchability still persist. The statements “Textbooks are cumbersome and difficult to carry” (69% agree); “Textbooks are bloated with unnecessary content” (64%) “Textbooks are daunting and difficult to read” (40% ) all resonated with the student body.

Still, in spite of this clear demand for a solution, the mass adoption of e-textbooks on college campuses seems a ways away. Considering the low percentage of students who currently own smartphones, it’s hard to imagine a rush out to snatch up an entirely separate device just for school. Especially one that is still in experimental stages like the Kindle, which has already presented a few glaring glitches in the classroom (location numbers vs. page numbers; awkwardness with the small keyboard, etc.). As a recent college graduate, I know I’d rather limp by with the familiar annoyances of traditional textbooks or explore low-cost solutions like textbook rentals or online open source resources than grapple with a new set of technical difficulties.

The slower, more realistic path for educational e-readers in my mind is the one that travels up through high schools. If more states follow California’s lead to provide schools with quality, cost-effective digital options and/or other private institutions make a drastic overhaul like Cushing Academy, students will have a chance to grow accustomed to the technology at the institution’s expense rather than their own (both cost and grade-wise) and gradually develop the necessary digital literacy skills. On that scale teachers and librarians—provided they are given the proper training—can also attend to individual students’ trials and tribulations.

As Derek pointed out, much of this will sound similar to the argument for mobile learning, but with similar benefits, a purposeful design and, most importantly, an industry push, the e-reader, whether it be a Kindle, Sony or Apple model, appears primed to take the lead. Ypulse readers what do you think?

For more campus coverage, visit the Ypulse Campus Channel, sponsored by Campus Media Group.


  1. William

    These problems are nothing that cannot be solved by re-designing textbooks the way they should have been made in the first place—concise, non-prose and open-formatted written content with clear illustrations, and no unnecessary content.

    A perfect example is Euclid’s “Elements”. A textbook is a tool, not a teacher.

    I’d hate to have to use a Kindle.

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