The eBook Revolution
When will it come to college campuses?
By Bram WolfePosted Jan 18, 2012
The digital revolution has swept through the music, movie, publishing and TV industries with astounding force and speed, transforming the way we consume and purchase products along the way.
Yet, that same revolution has yet to hit college campuses across the country with that same velocity. Everywhere you look these days, students carry iPhones and other smart devices that play music, take pictures, surf the Internet and play video games.
Digital readers like the Nook and Kindle have been around for nearly as long, but they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous on college campuses.
The current higher education market is an $8.2 billion industry, and yet eTextbooks comprise only 2.5 percent of that market, according to a report by Xplana, an online social learning platform that attempted to forecast the impact eTextbooks would have on higher education over the next five years.
Patrick Kastle, a French major at Ohio State, said the high cost of tablets and the poor reading experience associated with them isn’t worth the investment.
“Most screens are too bright to read with,” he said. “And it seems like it costs too much relative to the book. If they were priced low enough and there was a tablet device I liked (then I would use them). I love the feeling of turning a page, and I just highlight in the book anyway.”
Kastle’s apparently not alone in his preferences. An online survey UWeekly conducted Monday found that 80 percent of 64 respondents have never used an e-Book for class. Of those who haven’t used one, 33 percent said the cost of tablets were too prohibitive, while 34 percent said they simply prefer the traditional, physical books.
If the cost of eBooks and traditional books were the same, 58 percent of respondents said they’d still use a traditional book.
According to Kathy Smith, general manager at Barnes & Noble-The Ohio State University Bookstore, electronic textbooks are on the rise at OSU.
During the last academic year, the bookstore noted an increase of 3,000 percent in eTextbook sales, Smith said, but a survey conducted by Barnes & Noble found that only 14 percent of students had purchased an eTextbook to date.
OSU student Josh Bell said he’s thought about using eTextbooks recently, but doubts he would actually do so because of the cost.
“I don’t think I would because I can get a used textbook for about the same price,” he said. “If they lowered the prices on eBooks, then maybe.”
OSU student Danielle Ruderman, meanwhile, finds eBooks to be cheaper and more convenient.
“It’s really convenient to get the books right away; you don’t have to wait in line or wait for the book to come in the mail,” she said. “But it depends—sometimes I like to be able to highlight, and you can’t do that with a Kindle.”
Logan Crawford, a nurse studying at Columbus State, uses his MacBook to memorize bones, muscles and various anatomy, but said he’s never used a virtual textbook before.
“I think mixing technology and homework is usually a bad decision,” he said. “For me, reading something online I get too tempted to open a new window and get on Facebook or YouTube. Also I think reading that much on my laptop would hurt my eyes.”
But Logan said he would consider an eReader device.
“There are eReaders that are ‘perfectly designed’ with dim screens for eye stress, but even then who wants to buy books online and not have the option to sell them back?” he said. “It isn’t very cheap to go that route.”
Another complicated matter is the device used for virtual textbooks. There's the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, laptops, Android tablets, etc.
For the most part, it all comes down to LCD screens or E-Ink. For those who have never seen a Kindle or Nook, their screens are vastly different from LCDs.
They have E-Ink technology, which simulates paper. Unlike LCDs, which can cause eyestrain with such high brightness, E-Ink displays don’t have their own light source. They have contrast ratios similar to newspaper, are black and white, and mimic ink on paper.
It's incredibly soft on the eyes, ridiculous battery life (30+ days per charge) and can fool first time viewers into thinking it's not a screen at all.
The question also arises, what should the standard be? How about E-Ink, which is nice on the eyes, but makes illustrations difficult to see clearly? Or should it be LCD screens, which make images colorful, but hundreds of pages of text can be hard on the eyes?
I’m sure the English and art departments will have a field day with that dispute. And that’s not to mention that while most people own a laptop, not many have E-Readers.
However, they have become much more affordable, with the Kindle selling for $80 with ads, and the Nook touchscreen for $100. But much like the digital music revolution, the price of a device is much less relevant than its user friendliness.
Unlike the iPod there is no singular eReader to take over the market. There are too many variations and devices.
Some people read literature on their Kindle, and have never tried a textbook. Some have iPads to play games and surf the web, and never thought to use it for book reading. While others never thought to use their laptops for heavy reading.
Unlike the iPod, visual devices today have so many functions, that educational reading is an afterthought.
The last two issues are minor, but nevertheless need to be resolved: eBook formats and DRM copyrights. eBooks come in many different formats.
The Amazon Kindle has AZW, the Barnes and Noble Nook has EPUB and laptops and tablets often use PDFs. However, a Nook can’t read a PDF without it being converted, a Kindle can’t natively read the format of a PDF, and a laptop or tablet can’t read an eBook without proper software (i.e. Amazon Kindle App), and so on.
With these different formats, DRM copyrighting adds to the problem, because it discourages and makes it increasingly difficult to share these purchased books with others. Some items are limited to only certain devices, while others can only be viewed on the device it was purchased on.
This cobweb of formats, compatibility, copyrights and limited sharing only hurt the chances of virtual books being prevalent in education.
UWeekly writers Ashley Fournier and Katelyn Oster contributed.