[When] Will e-textbooks become Mainstream?

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It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ digital will replace those heavy, inert, static, dated, collection of pages also known as college textbooks. I was somewhat surprised to learn that sales of digital textbooks in 2010 was a mere 1% of the US college textbook market.

When will Digital Textbooks become mainstream?
The [billion] dollar question (in 2006  college students spent $4.9 billion on textbooks) – when will adoption rates be such that textbooks will be relegated to storage lockers, basements and garage sales?  Sales of digital books need to reach a point when it becomes viable for publishers to adopt a new production and distribution model. Publishers are already preparing and experimenting with the digital format as I’ve covered in a previous post, with learning solutions aplenty – (I have concerns and reservations about publishers digital programs, more about this in my next post).

E-textbook on an iPad

According to Xplana‘s post, digital textbook sales will grow by over 200%, yet this still only represents 18% of the market. Does this number seem low to you? I agree. But the textbook industry is complex –  is symbiotic with the higher-education bubble we are in. One dimension (one of many) influencing textbook sales is student demand, though arguably it is the textbook publishers that dictate demand (but this is for another post). Factors that influence student demand:

  • Availability. Currently only a fraction of college textbooks are available. I searched for e-textbooks for the graduate classes I’m taking this semester without any luck  :(.
  • Proliferation of e-reader, iPad and mobile devices.
  • Interactive software (apps) specifically designed for e-textbooks are enhancing the user experience, adding value.
  • Increase in online learning enrolments, which drives demand for digital learning products, and often offers alternatives to the college bookstore channel.
  • Students are price sensitive. Used textbook sales are not new, but renting of textbooks is. The textbook rental market is a new business model that is exploding. CourseSmart, a provider of e-textbooks for rent and purchase, is a joint venture of five large college textbook publishers, reported a 400% increase in sales in 2009 from the year before.

It may be a while before e-textbooks become mainstream – but I predict it will be well within five years, and it won’t be the model as we are seeing now, it will be quite different. Check back in a couple of days for my next post to find out my thoughts on the e market.

In the meantime visit this post at e-Literate to learn more about digital textbooks and learn about a Webinar this Friday, February 10th, at 11:00 am PST on The Future of Digital Textbooks in U.S. Education (And What That Means for You)Click here to register and/or to learn more.

Keep Learning 🙂

2 thoughts on “[When] Will e-textbooks become Mainstream?

  1. Debbie: great post. Thank you for linking to the Xplana research. We’ve rebranded that division of our company to Direct Digital (www.mbsdirect.net/digital), but Rob Reynolds, Ph.D. still handles all the research for our e-textbooks. He actually has a webinar tomorrow entitled The Future of Digital Content in US Education. He will touch on a lot of what you talked about here, and has some updated information from the post you cited. For more information, visit mbsdirect.net/register-02102012.html. You can also find Rob on Twitter @Xplanarob. Thanks!


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