Is moving to an all-virtual bookstore really the best option for colleges? Florida institutions weigh in

ebook-textbook-collegesLynn University has removed some merchandise from its campus bookstore — books.

Almost every book needed for the 300 classes offered at the liberal arts university in Boca Raton are available by digital download. So officials decided a traditional book store was no longer needed.

It’s now been renamed the “Campus Store” and has aisles of iPad cases, shirts, coffee mugs and water bottles where textbooks once sat.

Students who prefer to read on paper can still buy traditional textbooks, but they now have to order them online. The decline in paper books is the result of Lynn’s decision this year to give all 2,300 students iPads loaded with textbooks and other materials.

“We’re committed to putting students first, and the transition to a virtual bookstore not only meets their needs, but also saves them time and money,” said Chief Information Officer Chris Boniforti.

The new iPad approach works for freshman Clarissa Leon, 18, who “likes not having so many books to carry.”

Other South Florida colleges say eBooks continue to gain in popularity, although at a slower pace than Lynn.

“Digital still represents a relatively small percentage of total course material sales,” said Wendy Smith, manager of the University of Miami Bookstore. “However, we continue to see growth in digital interest and sales each term.”

It’s the same at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach. “There is a transition to digital occurring but it is occurring at different speeds on different campuses,” said Haleigh Morgan, spokesman for Follette Higher Education Group, which operates the PBAU bookstore.

Many colleges are looking for online alternatives because national studies have shown the cost of textbooks has risen more than three times the rate of inflation during the past 35 years. A 2011 study from the U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, found that 70 percent of students at 13 colleges surveyed admitted to not buying at least one of their required textbooks.

But electronic textbooks don’t always translate into cost savings for students.

(Next page: The cautious approach)

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