Digital textbooks enter US university

LOS ANGELES – As California State University (CSU), the largest public university system in the US, start renting digital textbooks to students, the indisputable dominance of printed textbooks in US schools may be crumbling.

Erik Fallis, spokesman from the chancellor’s office of the CSU, told Xinhua Monday that digital textbooks have won the preference of professors and students with their rich video, audio and animation contents and interactive functions such as note-taking and highlighting.

The CSU has announced partnerships with publishers including Cengage Learning, CourseSmart and Follett and will provide more than 5,000 of the most popular e-textbooks at discounted prices as part of a digital textbook rental program that covers the whole school system.

According to Fallis, beginning in the fall, students at the CSU can start renting digital versions of texts – e-textbooks – and save 60 percent or more on book fees, compared with purchasing the same text in new printed version.

By renting the e-textbooks, students will have access to the digital material for the length of an academic term and also have the option to print out the material.

E-textbooks can be rented conveniently by CSU students through their campus bookstore supported by the three publishing partners.

Once rented, e-textbooks and other digital materials can be accessed online or off-line through laptops, desktops, tablets and various other devices.

It’s up to the professors now whether they will use print textbooks or digital ones in their courses, Fallis said.

The university, along with its partners, will provide training opportunities for the teaching staff on interactive capabilities of the e-textbooks to help improve learning outcomes of students, according to the spokesman.

CSU’s digital rental program is one facet of the system’s Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative which is launched in 2010 and aimed at providing students with more affordable course materials while offering greater access to no-cost or low-cost academic content for faculty under the principles of choice, affordability and accessibility, said the university’s website.

Under the initiative, the CSU have saved students approximately 62 million dollars this school year by providing lower and no-cost print and digital alternatives to textbooks. With the wider implementation of the e-textbook program, the figure is expected to increase to almost 118 million dollars, the website said.

As the largest system of senior higher education in the United States, the CSU contains approximately 427,000 students and 43,000 faculty and staff on its 23 campuses.

Because of its scale, what CSU has done in the digital textbook area certainly played a leading role in the country, Fallis said.

According to the National Association of College Stores, in the United States, digital textbooks are expected to account for 10 percent to 15 percent of course materials sold in the fall of 2012, representing a 500 percent year-on-year increase in market share.

Price differences for e-books vary depending on publisher and demand. At a Northwestern University bookstore, a new printed microeconomics textbook costs 94 dollars while its digital alternative is more than 30 percent cheaper at 62 dollars.

Currently textbooks in prints still dominate the market, but statistics collected by the Pew Research Center, a Washington based think tank, indicate the market is poised for a digital textbook revolution.

According to Pew’s recent study on tablet ownership, the share of adults in the US owning tablets or e-book devices nearly doubled from 10 percent to 19 percent from November to mid-December last year and bumped up again to 29 percent in mid-January this year.

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