Electronic, and Still Too Expensive

Those electronic textbooks are supposed to make college so much cheaper, say advocates. The potential for such savings have gotten students and even some lawmakers really excited.

The California state senate president, Darrell Steinberg, recently introduced a plan to move the university system over to electronic textbooks. And back in February West Virginia University at Parkersburg announced it would introduce an electronic open-source textbook by the end of the year in order to provide “cheaper alternatives to textbooks.”

But this doesn’t really work. Using electronic textbooks doesn’t actually save many students much money at all, according to a recent study by staff at Daytona State College. The study attempted compare different textbook options. According to the paper:

During three of the project’s four semesters, students enrolled in some of the e-text pilot sections paid only $1 less for rental of their e-texts than students who bought a printed book due to publisher pricing decisions. These students were also unable to recoup a portion of expenses by selling the textbooks back to the on-campus bookstore when the course ended, which increased their disappointment.

I bet it did.

That’s the trouble with electronic textbooks. While such technology might appear cheaper in theory, because the books are produced by publishers the new format often doesn’t often end up being cheaper to actual students.

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