On Jan. 19, Apple, Inc. released a new version of its iBooks digital bookstore, the latest in a recent surge of new technologies. The increasing popularity of digital reading, however, has not yet reached UR.
With a new online bookstore, the tech company hopes to expand its reach into the digital textbooks market to offer students an innovative alternative to textbooks. Apple’s idea seems to be that college students would rather carry around a single iPad with all their notes and textbooks, rather than a backpack of textbooks.
Apple’s announcement highlights a growing trend in publishing today: more publishers are toying with the idea of e-Books, e-Textbooks and similar forms of digital publishing.
UR appears tuned into this trend. The UR bookstore boasts a new e-reader station where students can explore versions of Barnes and Nobles’ own e-reader, the Nook. Furthermore, the station highlights new, free software available online that allows students to easily access material from e-Textbook purchases.
e-Textbooks have been available at the bookstore since 2004 and students can rent or purchase them at prices similar to those of standard textbooks. They can also be purchased online at the University bookstore website.
Nevertheless, there are many practical problems surrounding the use of e-Textbooks on campus. UR Bookstore manager Maria Ferrante noted that, despite the widespread availability of e-Textbooks, the digital forms of many textbooks are much less popular than the hardcover versions. In practice, students who purchase e-Textbooks generally only do so when the bookstore has run out of hard copies and the student is desperate for the material.
“I don’t use e-Textbooks because I like to highlight and annotate in my textbooks — it helps me understand the material better,” junior Cindy Zu said.
Prices can also be a deterrent.
It is more expensive to rent the MTH 161/162 textbook online than it is to rent the hardcover version, despite the fact that e-Textbooks are often praised for being more practical, lighter weight and less expensive than hard-copy textbook alternatives.
Although there has been a surge in the media’s attentiveness to digital publishing, there remains an important distinction to be made between e-books and e-Textbooks.
e-Book readers like the Kindle, iPad and Nook have become more popular in recent years: In 2010, consumers bought 17 million tablets, while in 2011 the number of tablets purchased shot up to 65 million. In the second and third quarters of 2011 digital book sales accounted for 14 percent of all books sold, whereas in 2010 digital book sales accounted for only four percent of book sales for the whole year.
Ferrante said that there was no real change in e-book purchases this year, noting that people generally only buy the online version when the bookstore has run out of the print ones.
While e-Book and e-Reader popularity seems to be on the rise, e-Textbooks have not received the same attention. They cannot be read on e-Readers like the Nook, Kindle or iPad because of technological limitations. The textbook can also only be accessed from a laptop or personal computer, which many students find inconvenient.
“A lot of the textbooks I buy come with a downloadable version of the text, but I rarely use the online versions,” sophomore John Lewis Etter said. “The only advantage is that I can use the ctrl-f function.”
Apple’s attempts to refine and improve options available in the e-Textbooks market could prove successful. Their website boasts that the e-Textbooks available in the iBook digital bookstore are “dynamic, current, engrossing and truly interactive.” The textbooks available on iPads feature interactive diagrams, photos and videos.
Students can search for specific content, look up words, highlight text, take notes and rotate 3D images.
Critics and publishing purists united in opposition to the growing popularity of digital publishing. Chris Maxcer, a tech industry critic and columnist, worries that Apple’s new e-Textbooks will distract students from the actual text.
Other critics worry that the e-Textbooks devalue the text itself and are nothing more than interactive toys that will ultimately distract students.
Junior Joel Allen agreed.
“eTextbooks are useless to me,” he said. “Computer screens are too bright and hurt my eyes. I love a good, old-fashioned textbook.”
Volkov is a member of the class of 2012.