The Electronic Textbook Answer

West Virginia University at Parkersburg is trying to help students cut the cost of textbooks. According to an article by Michael Erb in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel:

The college will be rolling out its first electronic open-source textbook this fall, written and developed by college instructors and available for the Kindle and other e-readers.

According to the college’s program plan, the project aims to provide “low-cost, open-source textbooks developed by faculty for students in WVU Parkersburg’s first-year experience courses as well as developmental courses in mathematics and English/writing.”

This electronic textbook plan is an interesting gesture but seems to address the symptom, rather than the cause, of the problem. In the last two decades the price of college textbooks has increased more than inflation, and even more than tuition in many places. This has a lot to do with publishers making minor revisions to introductory textbooks every year and including superfluous computer software in textbook packages. The Parkersburg solution does nothing to address these problems.

An electronic textbook also requires students to own something on which to read the textbook. The e-readers can cost up to $300. Even the textbook rental plans embraced by many schools appear to be both cheaper and less complicated.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer