Inside Higher Ed reports today that the University of Texas-Austin has announced that it will be converting entirely to e-textbooks in an attempt to circumvent the racket of the publishing industry’s paper books. Each semester, the college negotiates fees with publishers based on how many students are in each class. Then the college passes that fee on to the students–except this time the fee is somewhere between $20 and $40 per text instead of $150 to $400.
The switch to e-books is an attempt to both cut costs for the students and to stay up-to-date with current texts. These days, students can pay up to $900 per semester for their books, especially for hardcover science textbooks, which need to be updated often and have high production values. The problem is that the e-book market is still a really small portion of the publishing industry. The technology is still developing.
But I always thought that e-books would break in to the textbook industry first. After all, the huge amount of waste that goes into producing millions of textbooks each semester is astonishing. Electronic books would also make it much easier for students to search through texts and find the passages they previously read. It would make studying more efficient and less wasteful environmentally. Furthermore, it could increase profits for the book authors because the publishing industry doesn’t have to spend so much of the book cost on buying expensive paper and shipping. I’m optimistic about the future of e-textbooks, but I think it will take several years for them to work out all the bugs.
Cross posted at Pushback.