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The End of Traditional Textbooks is Near


October 25, 2010
by Suada Kolovic
The start of every new semester calls for a new set of textbooks- very expensive textbooks. Students can’t really think about the cost of college today without factoring in the skyrocketing cost of textbooks. For years students have improvised on ways to dodge buying a new copy- purchasing a used one, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a friend, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. We recently posted about how e-textbooks and textbook rental services are saving students money but it may not be too long before they’ll be a students’ only option. The plan is to have colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommend, just as in the old model).

The start of every new semester calls for a new set of textbooks- very expensive textbooks. Students can’t really think about the cost of college today without factoring in the skyrocketing cost of textbooks. For years students have improvised on ways to dodge buying a new copy- purchasing a used one, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a friend, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. We recently posted about how e-textbooks and textbook rental services are saving students money but it may not be too long before they’ll be a students’ only option. The plan is to have colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommend, just as in the old model).

And why not? Electronic copies are far cheaper to produce than printed text, making a bulk purchase more feasible and with colleges ordering books by the hundreds of thousands, they can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. The hope is to thwart the possibility of students dropping out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average price rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year faster than inflation.

"When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong," says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. "Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent."

But not everyone is buying into the hype of the e-textbook. Issues of ethics have aroused, for instance, what if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?

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