Response to "The Future of the Textbook"

This post is written in response to “The Future of the Textbook” by Sara Killingworth and Martin Marlow.  We invite your comments and discussion!

by Austin Mann,,

E-textbooks are increasing in popularity, and for good reason. The advantages of an e-textbook include interactivity, user experience, search and look-up speed, just to name a few. But surprisingly, many tech-savvy students are still opting out when it comes to physical textbooks. To them, the appeal of a physical textbook is the ability to flip back and forth through pages quickly and easily, dog-ear pages, and make your own highlights quicker and easier then in an e-textbook.

Furthermore, as much as students would prefer to have e-textbooks, they can quickly become very expensive. And on the flip side, regular textbooks can also become surprisingly expensive. Not to mention the associated risk of used textbooks. Often times, the more inexpensive the book, the lower the quality.

A number of companies have arisen to help combat these pain-points for students. Some of them, such as, compare prices from many different websites to offer the best new or used book for your buck. Their listings are often led by larger sites like Amazon and

There are also up and coming companies like and, websites that allow you to place an order for a book, use it for as long as you specify you will need it, and send it back by your due date – think of Netflix, but for college textbooks. And because you are renting, it means the books have passed a quality hurdle, so students can expect it to be in pretty good condition.

As a student myself, I personally prefer to have a physical textbook for studying. Perhaps it’s because the digital devices are so full of distractions (it’s too easy for me to sink 4 hours playing Angry Birds, and wonder what just happened!). For that reason, amongst others, I prefer physical textbooks because it makes for more effective studying. That’s just my opinion, but I’m sure there are plenty of students out there who feel the same way.

Undoubtedly an e-textbook era may be coming. But however things eventually shake out, for the moment there are still plenty of viable options for those of us who aren’t quite ready for a digital textbook revolution.

Editor’s Note: Austin Mann is a Customer Service Representative for

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4 thoughts on “Response to "The Future of the Textbook"

  1. Dennis Brunning April 13, 2011 at 4:06 pm -

    Austin makes good points about textbooks. Whether online or offline, they present unique challenges to users—for the student, the teacher, the librarian. Oh, the publisher too.

    So far, librarians have stayed away from textbooks and the textbook publishers have stayed away from us. The library model is one to many—buy once, used many times by as many people as possible. The textbook publisher model is many to one—sell as many copies to as many customers as possible. A librarian at a textbook conference and a textbook publisher at a library conference are fish out of water.

    I’ve found colleagues, faculty, and students mostly agreeing with Austin’s studying behavior which we might label agnostic. En attendant Samuelson?

    Perhaps Austin’s company is one of those who will alter this and bring these publishing/distribution/use models together. Got to ask though—Netflix’s major game now is streaming video to Internet connected televisions. Here they are causing concern to distributors and content providers.

    Does CampusBookRentals have a Netflix fix? Would libraries be involved?

  2. Just want to make you aware of a couple national studies my organization, the National Association of College Stores conducted this past fall. One about the incredible growth of textbook rental programs:
    AND one about the lack of enthusiasm for e-books and e-readers among college students:
    — Sincerely, Charles Schmidt
    NACS Dir. of PR

  3. Katina Strauch April 15, 2011 at 3:33 am -

    I have four textbook anecdotes. First one. I was working on the Reference desk when a young student asked for a book (a critical discussion of a famous author) which was in the online catalog. We had it in electronic form only. She insisted that she wanted the print book and asked me if I could locate a print copy. I discovered that one of our local libraries did indeed have the book in print form but it was twenty miles away. Well, this young student who looked like she would rather be out dancing than searching for a print book, set off twenty miles to check out that book.

    Second anecdote. A young, fresh-faced enthusiastic student (sophomore) at the College of Charleston somehow found my office up on the second floor of the Addlestone Library. It was nearly 5 o’clock and I was thinking of leaving. Anyway, he was looking for a print book which the online catalog said was being processed in technical services. He said he desperately needed the book for a paper he was writing that was due in a two days. So, I looked in the online catalog myself and discovered that we also had an eBook version of the very same book. I told him he was in luck. He could see the book now, online. He said, “I know, but I want the real book.” To make a long story even longer, we found the print book in processing and the student went away happy. The book (transportation was the subject) he wanted was a quasi-textbook if you know what I mean.

    And third anecdote. A young man was complaining about his heavy bookbag. “Man, I want all this stuff to be electronic so I don’t have to carry all this heavy stuff around.” Good point.

    Fourth anecdote. A psychology professor on our campus was very enthusiastic. She agreed to let a publisher use her class as an experiment with a different type of textbook — a looseleaf binder that students could remove and file pages in at will. She thought this was a grand idea and so did the students. At least initially. But it didn’t work out because pages went missing and content was lost.

    I am still collecting anecdotes.

  4. Dennis Brunning April 19, 2011 at 9:35 pm -

    We should all collect anecdotes—it’s our contribution to evidence based research. Here are mine.

    Primum fabella: a big publisher focused group a bunch of us on how to sell e textbooks through the library. Not one of the almost eight librarians bought this approach. We’d just add this expense? We’d become the bookstore?

    Secundum fabella: observe the modern elementary school student burdened with book bag, those gunnysacks of learning that assure orthopedic surgeons of business well into the next century. Sure, the kiddos would be served by e versions; takes a load off the fanny and maybe improves learning. On the other hand, they don’t have to trek far—Moms, Dads, and grandparents await in Escalades just a few feet away…

    Fabella tertia: I sympathize with the “real book” conundrum. You can’t arrange key textbooks on your office or home shelves as knowledge display. How do you claim you’ve studied when it is just pixels?

    Ultima fabella: I’m ready, with any takers, to author a print and e textbook about all of this. Others can be paid to review; you, my co-author, will retire to the Southwest with the royalties which we’ll deposit electronically, of course!

    Latin translations courtesy of Google…