Though e-textbook sales are increasing, they are still not a replacement for their paper counterparts.
This semester, the Penn Bookstore offered 1,779 titles, of which 149 were digital — approximately 8.5 percent of the total. Although this percentage is relatively low, Barbara Lea-Kruger, director of communications and external relations at Penn’s Business Services Division, said that the industry anticipates 60 percent of all textbook titles to become available digitally by 2020.
On the customer side, college students have shown increased interest in using e-books. According to textbook distributer MBS Direct Digital, approximately 6 percent of textbook sales across all Barnes & Noble college bookstores were digital in 2012, an increase of 3 percent from 2011.
For students, e-books may be a cheaper option. For example, “Harbrace Essentials,” a widely used freshman English book, costs nearly 50 percent less for the digital version, according to Lea-Kruger.
CourseSmart, a provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials, currently has nearly 3.6 million users across North America.
E-book have become an appealing option especially for those with mobile technology like the Kindle Fire, the Nook and the iPad. However, Penn students use these tablets for more than reading textbooks.
Advertised as a platform for learning, the iPad and iPad Mini have become the preferred reading and organization tools for some students.
Engineering junior Samantha Jones received her iPad as a Christmas gift.
“I just thought it was one of those things that would be beneficial for school,” she said. While she has yet to use it to read textbooks, Jones does use it for leisure reading and to read class documents and PDFs she downloads off of Blackboard.
These technologies have proven to be helpful to students away from Penn’s campus as well. In 2011, College senior Kristin Thomas, who also owns an iPad, found herself using e-books when she participated in a study-abroad program that took students to New Orleans, India, Argentina and South Africa.
“It’s difficult to carry books around [from country to country],” she said. So “they started sending out eBooks and PDFs in a Dropbox file.”
Thomas explained that the program used to discourage the use of technology due to concerns about the lack of internet access in some countries but that they were transitioning when she participated.
Wharton junior Amanda Langhorne does not use her iPad Mini for classwork, but rather for organization and social networking. Langhorne said, “I use [it] now more than my laptop” to manage calendars and quickly check Facebook and Twitter.
As for the other students, Thomas is now finding her iPad less useful for reading textbooks, citing that PDFs are more popular among her professors.
Similarly, Jones’ only required textbook had to be bought from the Penn Bookstore in paper form, while Langhorne’s courses do not require textbooks and prohibit the use of electronics in class.
Jan Robitzsch, a teaching assistant for “History of Modern Philosophy,” discourages students from using electronic devices to access e-textbooks in class. Although he recognizes the advantages of this technology, Robitzsch believes it distracts students in class and is less conducive to studying a text as compared to studying from its printed form.
“Usually philosophy involves reading texts closely, which means being able to take notes in the margins of a text and underlining it,” he said in an email. “And I think students don’t do this when they are using e-books.”