Textbooks: Not Much of a Choice

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With students, parents, and pundits complaining about the high cost of textbooks many colleges are trying to push textbook alternatives. People are excited about things like electronic books, cheaper than real books but still pricy enough to allow bookstores and publishers to turn a profit.

Students, however, don’t necessarily want textbook alternatives. According to a piece by Lisa Foderaro in the New York Times:

Though the world of print is receding before a tide of digital books, blogs and other Web sites, a generation of college students weaned on technology appears to be holding fast to traditional textbooks. That loyalty comes at a price. Textbooks are expensive — a year’s worth can cost $700 to $900 — and students’ frustrations with the expense, as well as the emergence of new technology, have produced a confounding array of options for obtaining them.

For all the talk that [college students’] generation is the most technologically adept in history, paper-and-ink textbooks do not seem destined for oblivion anytime soon.

The trouble is that books are kind of the point of college. According to the article, “’The screen won’t go blank,’ said Faton Begolli, a [Hamilton College] sophomore from Boston. ‘There can’t be a virus. It wouldn’t be the same without books. They’ve defined academia for a thousand years.’”

With all this talk of innovation and technology we seem to have missed the fact that the electronic textbooks option is kind of awful. They’re hard to read, you can’t make notes on them, they strain your eyes, and they’re not always even available.

Apparently that’s why they’re so unpopular. Digital books account for less than 3 percent of textbook sales. [Image via]

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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