Taking the textbook to the future: eBooks

By Michael Campbell

It’s no secret that the college textbook industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average college student can plan to spend up to a thousand dollars each year on schoolbooks. Prices per book can increase greatly depending on year of school and college major. Many classes use the textbooks infrequently, which often frustrates students for spending large amounts of money without getting the use out of what they paid for.

Many students try and save money through renting books. However, some bookstore books cannot be rented. This can be very expensive. Alex Nivus, a senior at the New England School of Communications (NESCom), a school within Husson University, spends well under the average but books still cost several hundred dollars each year.

“I spend around 150 per semester. I rent first. That’s my first option,” said Nivus. “If I absolutely can’t, then I buy. There aren’t many books that I actually use thought. That’s what really bothers me. I truly feel that in my six semesters here, I’ve really only need three. I hate that our math homework is done online. You truly learn math by doing it on paper.”

With the prevalence of electronic readers, such as e-books or Kindles, more and more students are abandoning the traditional print books all together and going for the lighter alternatives from their wallets and in their backpacks. To combat the prices of books from bookstores, several students, including students at Husson, are looking for cheaper ways to pay for books. Taylor Evans, a senior from the Web Media department at NESCom said that she starting using an e-book some time ago. She said that she used the bookstore when she first started college but gradually made changes.

“I only used the bookstore for the physical copy years ago when I was a freshman. But as I progressed further into college I started looking into less costly options such as Amazon student accounts,” said Evans, in an e-mail. Evans said that using an e-book has made a few things more difficult but the decision has been worth it.

“With the e-reader, it’s really easy and helpful to just type “ctrl, F” and search for a chapter or topic within seconds. But on the flip side, I find it harder to read the text via computer rather than a physical book. The small text hurts me eyes,” said Evans. While Evans uses e-books, Nivus is among the majority of Husson students who still go to the bookstore for print books.

According to Janet Francoeur, the manager of the Husson bookstore, the majority of students still goes with traditional print books, but offer many e-books. Francoeur said that as Husson students go more digital, the bookstore will be prepared.

“The Husson Bookstore is the best single source for a wide and growing variety of digital course materials, including Follett’s BryteWave digital reader, Pearson MyLabs, McGraw Hill LearnSmart, Cengage’s Aplia and many more,” said Francoeur in an e-mail. “Digital materials provide students anytime, anywhere access and often feature interactive learning tools, like video, animation and models.”

According to USA Today, from 2002 to 2012, textbooks prices nearly doubled, rising by almost 82 percent. In that same amount of time, tuition has risen by 89 percent. By comparison, the average price of a tablet is under 200 dollars. In addition to having books on e-readers, many programs exist for students to obtain books.

For students who don’t use traditional bookstores, a popular destination is Chegg.com. Chegg.com is one of the country’s largest online sites for students to rent books. While Chegg started by just renting books, more and more Chegg offers prices that are considerably less than buying used books or renting books from a college bookstore. Other popular sites include Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

According to the Amazon website, students can save as much as 80 percent on books as compared to more traditional methods. John Fillmore, the vice president of college services for Chegg said that Chegg not only offers an e-book service but has created an app, Chegg Study, that allows students to connect with Chegg staff.

“One of the biggest advantages to using Chegg is the price difference from the college bookstore. However, e-books get a huge value on a digital level,” said Fillmore. “For instance, say you’re working on your homework on your e-book with one of our biology textbooks, we’re able to see that. If you get stuck on a question, you can ask Chegg to help.” Fillmore also said that students can connect directly to Chegg.com when they use books rented using their e-book service.

Chegg started renting print books in the early 2000s and started renting them through e-books about three to four years ago. Chegg Study, the program that helps students with e-books, has over one million subscribers. Fillmore said that Chegg is working on expanding to eventually become entirely based through digital media.

“We’re going to be partnering with Ingram, the largest book warehouse company in the world,” said Fillmore. “Ingram will handle distributing print textbooks for any student who would prefer having a physical copy.” Fillmore also believes that the prevalence of e-books will be taking off even more so over the next several years.

“We’re watching new transitions [when it comes to new technology]. Some of them like the iPod took off right away. Others like 3-D television haven’t really taken off quite yet,” said Fillmore. “It’s going to take a couple of years.”

E-book services are also available at several of the other colleges in the greater Bangor area including Eastern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Augusta-Bangor campus.

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