Door opens for digital textbooks 

By Karen Herland

Since 1994, textbook prices have jumped an average of 62 per cent. In that same period of time, the average cost of all books has only increased by 20 per cent.

Paper might become a thing of the past if textbooks go digital. Ours is the first bookstore in the country to offer digital texts. Magnifying glass

Paper might become a thing of the past if textbooks go digital. Ours is the first bookstore in the country to offer digital texts.

According to bookstore director Lina Lipscombe, over 70 per cent of the academic publishing industry is concentrated in the hands of six major publishers. In other words, a small group of businesses (mostly based outside of Canada) control what amounts to be well over $400 million in annual sales in Canada alone.

"We're extremely sensitive to the high prices of text books," said Lipscombe. For several years now, the bookstore has established networks for second-hand books. Once a professor requests a book, the bookstore staff try to find second-hand copies, and to establish relationships with other schools and wholesalers.

And now, we are the first academic bookstore in Canada to sign on with Nebraska Books division Jumpbooks and offer digital versions of textbooks.

"We want to be able to offer students a choice," explained Lipscombe. Although there are only a handful of required texts currently available in digital form, the number is growing. "If we don't do it, somebody else will."

Lipscombe has long deplored the increasingly common practice of making minor changes in textbooks, then re-releasing the 'new' edition with a heftier price tag, sometimes 10 to 20 per cent more.

At the same time, Public Interest Research Groups in the U.S. have released studies critiquing the academic publishing industry. Increasingly, textbooks are only available 'bundled' with a variety of CDs, online quizzes, study aids, etc., that can increase the price of a textbook by between 10 and 47 per cent.

The PIRG report notes that textbooks are sometimes no longer available without these expensive extras, even though two-thirds of the professors they asked 'rarely' or 'never' used the material.

Digital books allow students to electronically lease a textbook over a specific period of time (the equivalent of one, two or three terms). The purchase price (about half the price of a new textbook) gives students an access code to an online portal where they can read, highlight and comment on the text.

Students are limited to a single computer to view the text, are not able to print the material and are frozen out after their lease expires. But, for the price of a second-hand or older edition, they were able to use the current text. Students can 'return' the book if they drop the course, as long as they haven't used their access code yet.

Concordia was also the first bookstore to allow students to register for customized book lists. Students receive lists of the titles required for all the courses they have registered for, and can receive alerts when the books arrive in the bookstore. The bookstore also has services optimized for use on BlackBerries and some cell phones.


Concordia University