E-textbooks not making the grade
The electronic book
market reached a significant milestone last month when Amazon reported
that, for the first time, sales of Kindle e-books outsold hardcover
books. However, it looks like the surge in popularity of e-books hasn’t
yet translated into higher sales in the one category that we might have
expected to lead the way: textbooks.
As millions of high school
and college students prepare to return to their studies, a recent survey
by the National Association of College Stores found that digital
textbooks account for just 2 to 3 percent of total sales. Part of the
difficulty is the sheer complexity of presenting a textbook in digital
form. Many are infused with illustrations, graphics and detailed
references, which often require the student to jump back and forth
between pages or even other books, something that is hard to do on an
Although today’s teens and 20-somethings adapt easily to
e-readers and devices like Apple’s iPad, they can still tire of
constantly staring into a screen. Plus, catalog limitations and a
variety of different publishing formats makes it hard for a student to
find the one device that will fulfill all of his or her needs.
these hurdles haven’t stopped the established booksellers from trying
to bridge the e-textbook divide. Both Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes &
Noble (Nook) have made hundreds of e-textbooks available through their
online bookstores, with a goal of reaching a double-digit share of the
market by 2012. Barnes & Noble has also added Nookstudy, a free application that allows tagging and highlighting of e-books using a PC or Mac.
Other specialist e-textbook ventures like CourseSmart have seen big jumps in the last two years in both sales and the number of available titles, while Google continues to build a vast library of classic texts, particularly those that are no longer subject to copyright protection.
the current sluggish state of the e-textbook market, don’t bet against
the sellers finding a way to make digital work. Even if the product’s
not yet ideal, e-textbooks will continue to enjoy the one advantage over
print titles that has been so effective in other categories: a cheaper
price. That’s one quality that every student can appreciate!