Could Google Books ruling affect college textbook market?

Three in four college students prefer printed textbooks.

Advocates for Google’s massive digital library say the online repository is inevitable, despite recent setbacks, and could present an entirely new option for college textbooks.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin on March 22 rejected a deal between Google and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing antitrust concerns and the need for Congressional action on the issue.

Chin, in his decision, said an online book repository would be beneficial for researchers, libraries, and schools, echoing advocacy from prominent campuses in recent years, including Stanford University and Cornell University.

Attorneys from all sides of the Google Books dispute are expected to gather in late April to discuss how the agreement between Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) will change after Chin’s ruling.

Many campuses that have lent support to Google Books have created their own digital book collections—modest online libraries when compared to the scope of Google’s collection of about 15 million works.

If Google Books is expanded to a modern-day Library of Alexandria—as many in higher education expect—students struggling to keep up with rising textbook costs might have a cheap option that would compete with online textbook rental services that have gained traction nationwide.

“The way in which I can see Google Books making a dramatic impact on our library and its students is with textbooks,” said Amy Stempler, coordinator of library instruction at the College of Staten Island City University of New York. “The circulation of our textbook reserves continues to increase, as does the cost of such books. So if they were available for free online, I would imagine it would be a most enticing option whose effect would be measurable.”

Stempler said a comprehensive online library would not threaten campus libraries, even if textbooks are published in Google Books.

“Certainly electronic access to books is only going to rise, which I encourage, but I believe the so-called death of the library has been greatly exaggerated,” she said. “It is my opinion that libraries are even more necessary as citadels of credible, authoritative information provided in a consistent, dependable manner.”

A survey released in January by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) showed that college librarians could remain in demand even if Google’s digital book collection is allowed to expand dramatically.

Three in four college students said they prefer printed textbooks, citing the “feel” of the traditional book and the resale value. Twelve percent of BISG survey respondents said they preferred eBooks.

One-fifth of students said they bought their textbooks online, and 65 percent said they bought their books at a bookstore.

While Chin’s ruling could be a temporary setback for digital publishing, campus technology leaders said they would find new ways to share educational resources among institutions.

“Putting commercial considerations aside, eventually we need to come to terms with distribution of most all educational content, including books, online,” said Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Services. “Increasingly, open educational resources are moving ahead in education. Those who cannot come to terms with some sort of program will be left in the digital dust.”

Schroeder said colleges and universities who see Chin’s ruling as a rejection of online textbook resources should reconsider before they fall behind peer schools.

“Their books will be replaced inevitably by newer, openly-available texts,” he said. “Whether it is Google’s plan or something else that will follow in the coming months, the momentum of online access to free or inexpensive resources will not be stopped.”

Nicolas Nelson, an adjunct assistant professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., said he has tracked the Google Books litigation because he was concerned that articles and other works he has penned would become accessible without maintaining his publishing rights.

Nelson said he would support an agreement establishing an “opt-in” system that would provide a range of publishing options, “the rights of which are consistently respected, is the healthiest legal regime for content creators everywhere.”

Higher education’s push for more digital book options doesn’t stop with support for Google Books as the web search giant searches for a way to expand its collection.

Drexel University’s College of Information Science and Technology and Florida State University’s College of Information, for example, hosts the Internet Public Library (IPL), a collection launched in the mid-1990s.

More than a dozen colleges and universities have partnered with IPL since the mid-2000s.

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