Print Textbooks Still More Economical Than E-Books

Kent Anderson over at the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s “The Scholarly Kitchen” blog wrote an interesting post today about students’ use of print textbooks versus e-books.

The post highlights a press release by the National Association of College Stores that said that 74% of students prefer print textbooks over e-books, and that the death of the print textbook has been “highly exaggerated.”

Anderson responds that the National Association of College Stores’ survey doesn’t actually show a preference of one format over another, but instead presents a simple economics problem. Whether or not students find e-books easier to use than print textbooks, the high prices of both print textbooks and e-books, along with the ability to resell used print textbooks, make print textbooks the obvious economical choice. Anderson provides an example:

Would I buy a $52 e-book when I can buy a $115 print book that has, as its low offer, a used price of $84? With print, I can essentially “rent” a textbook for a semester for $31, an economic edge of $21 over the e-book — and with no upfront cost of an e-reader.

Anderson makes a great point. Most students view textbooks as a necessary evil and look for the most affordable option. Many times, textbooks aren’t even important for success in a class, and simply reviewing class Powerpoint slides online is a more than sufficient study method.

The only flaw with purchasing a print textbook with the intention to resell is that increasingly more authors are putting out new versions of print textbooks every year, rendering older versions obsolete for class use. If students sense that this behavior becomes more commonplace, or if publishers include more useful tools with e-books, we may see a shift to e-books from print textbooks. For now, I’m sticking with used print textbooks.

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