College Guide


January 05, 2012 2:07 PM Electronic, and Still Too Expensive

By Daniel Luzer

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


  • barkleyg on January 05, 2012 6:44 PM:

    I came up with what I called the "FLASH BOOK" IN 2005. Even then, I said the publishing WHORES would prevent a good thing from happening( think GM buying Red Car in L.A. in 1940's), and they have.

    My book would have used a flash drive( it was over 6 years ago), with the text book on it. But, the notebook would have had a writing tablet like the then contemporary Gateway, and you could "copy" highlights and notes to the flash drive. When it came time to resell the flash, your notes would already be on it, for the new reader to use or not use.

    The other obvious bonus what that instead of carrying a backpack of books( didn't do that in my day long ago), they would carry their laptop and some flash drives. Of course, as I predicted, the publishers would never allow a great idea to go unpunished.