“Going digital should mean saving money for students,” Allen said. “And a lot of students think eBooks are just lame – just PDF copies of flat textbook pages on a computer screen.”
A Student PIRGs survey conducted among 500 college students in Oregon and Illinois showed that one-third were “comfortable” with online books, 22 percent were “uncomfortable,” and 45 percent were “in the middle.”
College students might spend untold hours scrolling through web pages in the spare time, Allen said, but studying via eBook isn’t yet widely accepted in higher education.
“Reading a news [article] online or a Facebook page is completely different from learning from a textbook online,” she said.
State legislators have responded the rising textbook costs with proposals to curb book prices and encourage a move toward digital options.
Ohio lawmakers considered a law this year that would require publishers to create electronic versions of all textbooks and mandate that bookstores pay back at least 50 percent of a book’s original price when students return at the end of a semester to sell the text back to the store. The proposal would also outlaw professors from receiving incentives for using a certain kind of textbook.
The Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed a bill in June that will require faculty members in the state’s public colleges and universities to use the “the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks.” The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) took issue with the legislation, saying in a statement that the new rules would have “a chilling effect on faculty members’ ability to exercise their academic freedom in planning courses of the highest quality.”
The AAUP mentioned the proliferation of eBooks as a potential solution to cutting students’ book costs while using quality texts.
“The Pennsylvania legislation is also worrying because it is part of a national trend to regulate textbook selection,” the statement said. “Certainly rising textbook prices are a serious matter. Increased availability of electronic versions of textbooks that certainly should prove less expensive is likely an inevitable feature of a changing marketplace. But the main ways to reduce the expense of a college education are to increase state appropriations to public colleges and universities and to eliminate unnecessary administrative positions.”