Survey suggests college students still tepid on eBooks

Students say they would buy an eReader if a professor required the device.

Colleges’ embrace of electronic books runs the spectrum from hesitant acceptance to full investment, but students’ reluctance to use the nontraditional textbooks remains, if a new national survey is any indication.

One in 10 college students said they have bought an electronic book in the past three months, and 56 percent of those who had purchased an eBook said it was for educational purposes, according to a study released last month by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) OnCampus Research Division.

The survey included more than 600 college students from across the country, and although NACS advocates for college bookstores—which thrive on traditional textbook sales—the findings painted a bleak picture for campus technology leaders pushing for more use of electronic books.

Seventy-seven percent of students who recently bought an eBook said they read the book on their laptop or netbook.

Only two in 10 read the eBook on an eReader device, such as the Apple iPad or Barnes & Noble Nook. The same number read the eBook on their mobile device, which included BlackBerries and iPhones. Eight percent said they owned an eReader device.

Elizabeth Riddle, a NACS OnCampus Research manager, said the survey findings from this fall show that the college student market is “definitely a growth opportunity for companies providing digital educational products,” but warned that electronic books have not usurped traditional books or college bookstores.

“It seems that the death of the printed book, at least on campus, has been greatly exaggerated, and that dedicated eReaders have a way to go before they catch on with this demographic,” Riddle said.

The on-campus proliferation of the iPad since its release last April hasn’t made eReaders commonplace in the lecture hall yet, according to the survey.

The NACS survey indicated that student respondents like to hold traditional textbooks from the college bookstore, and “some respondents just do not trust technological devices, and worry about technical malfunctions or the accidental deletion of materials.”

Still, other students—the number wasn’t included in the NACS survey results—said the convenience of electronic books and eReaders could wean them off of traditional books, which can become back-achingly heavy during a cross-campus trek.

“Some stated that they would like to have all of their required materials in one place for easier access,” the survey said. “Others believed they would purchase digital textbooks if the print version were too large or bulky to carry.”

Students responding to the NACS survey said they would only purchase an eBook if their professor required it, or if the traditional textbook wasn’t available for purchase.

The survey added: “Some students said that they would also be more willing to purchase digital if allowed to use their laptops in class, or if the university provided them with a free laptop.”

Requiring eBook purchases could make Florida’s Daytona State College a leader among institutions hoping to lead the way in electronic book adoption. The 35,000-student college has been moving toward a “100 percent” eBook campus since 2009, using electronic texts in English, computer science, and economics courses so far.

Daytona’s eBook initiative would allow students to buy electronic books for about $20 apiece, and the books would be accessible on any web-enabled eReader, college officials said.

Daytona would make affordable eReader devices available to students, or students could read their electronic books on one of the thousands of on-campus computers—a move that could quell student concerns about the price of eReaders, as mentioned several times in the NACS survey.

Officials want to reduce annual textbook costs—now around $1,100—by 50 to 80 percent, even after the purchase of an eReader device like the iPad.

A study conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs)—an organization lobbying for lower textbook prices, among other higher-education issues—shows that students are at least willing to try electronic textbook reading.

Forty percent of student respondents said they were “somewhat familiar” with the Kindle and other eReaders on the market and said they were “likely” or “very likely” to buy an eReader.

Thirty-eight percent of student respondents said they would access textbooks on their iPhone, iPod, or similar device “frequently” or “all the time” if faculty made the option available, according to the study.

Still, the Student PIRGs research showed that seven in 10 college students prefer printed textbooks “if cost is not a factor.”

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