• January 12, 2017

Old School: The Lagging Transition to Digital Textbooks

Why have textbooks been so slow to make the move to digital?

Around the world, reading has entered the digital age. While hard copies of newspapers, magazines, and books were once ubiquitous, today they are slowly being replaced with electronic versions made available on smartphones, tablets, Kindles, and other ereaders. And while this trend looks set to continue, there’s one place where it hasn’t fully caught on: the classroom. It’s certainly not for lack of trying.

Maintain security in the digital transformation. Download our viewpoint paper to learn how.

A Mandate for Digital Textbooks

Back in 2012, the Obama Administration published its Digital Textbook Playbook in the U.S., challenging states and digital learning providers to put electronic textbooks into the hands of all students by 2017. In the years since, a variety of companies, including Apple (iBooks), Textbooks.com, and Chegg, among others, have sought to bring digital textbooks to the masses.

The thinking, of course, was that digital textbooks are not only cheaper and more convenient, but they’re also more conducive to learning. And, when you consider the fact that today’s students spend an average of $1,200 a year on college textbooks—that’s up 73 percent since 2006—making the case for a move to digital seemed like a no-brainer. For companies eager to disrupt the $7 billion textbook industry, it appeared to be the perfect storm.

Ideals Don’t Always Align with Reality

While digital textbooks have since entered the market, fast-forward to present day and you’ll find that interest in them is cooling. In fact, in 2015, ebook sales dropped in both the United States and the United Kingdom. And while many of today’s colleges and universities use digital textbooks, hard copy versions still abound.

Helping to shed some light on the matter is a recent study that found more than 90 percent of U.S. college students prefer reading paper books over ebooks, with 92 percent of respondents saying they’re the easiest medium to concentrate in. The study also found that the main reasons why students opt to use ebooks are that they’re cheaper and they weigh less, not because of any of their other features.

Adding more salt to digital textbook vendors’ wounds is the fact that the textbook rental market is taking off, meaning that price is no longer always an advantage. In many cases it’s now cheaper to rent a textbook than it is to buy a digital version of one.

Going Old School?

Despite the fact that the digital textbook industry has faced an uphill battle, the reality is that in the years ahead it’s likely to make greater inroads. As more and more students who’ve grown up with nothing but ereaders head to school, and the advantages that ereaders provide increase, digital textbooks will undoubtedly become the norm.

Only time will tell, but it seems unlikely that textbooks won’t one day submit to digital transformation.

Like this story? Learn more about the path toward digital transformation.