Survey Says: Digital Still a Distant Option


College stores have heard for some time that electronic textbooks will soon be their core course material offering. The problem is the e-textbook takeover keeps getting pushed back. Some say the reason is students are just too comfortable with their traditional print materials.

In reality, a recent survey says professors are actually a slightly larger hurdle, resisting the digital transition. Faculty lag slightly behind students in e-book fondness, according to studies from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). Twelve percent of faculty prefer digital course materials, compared to 16% of students. Of faculty members who have already adopted an e-textbook (20%), 90% say they are pleased with the results and will likely adopt an e-text in the future.

Two studies from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), Faculty Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education and its companion Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, show that print course materials continue to dominate. The studies provide some interesting insight about textbook adoption from the minds of faculty.

The faculty study is the result of an online survey of college professors and administrators drawn from a nationally representative panel. It indicates that slightly more than 20% of faculty made e-book options available, while just 2% of students selected them as the primary way to access content.

More than half of faculty surveyed said textbook selections were based on individual choice. More than 75% prefer materials with which they are already familiar and most avoid new editions until absolutely necessary.

What may come as a surprise to students is that 60% of faculty take student concerns about the expense of texts into consideration and prefer materials that save students money. The report said the same percentage also tells students where to find required course materials. The problem for college stores is that just 30% of faculty surveyed believe college stores provide sufficient information about format and price options.

The reasons given for choosing traditional print are ease of bookmarking, higher levels of engagement, preference for the look and feel of print, and students’ lack of devices for viewing e-textbooks.


Karen Katt, director, Blue Colt Bookstore, Middlesex County College, Edison, NJ, said her store has had some faculty members request digital content, but not many. Her larger dilemma is not being able to support digital yet.

“Our campus is ‘challenged’ in the fact that we currently do not have wireless connectivity in our academic buildings. Only the library and college center offer Internet connection at this time,” Katt said. “We are in the beginning of an implementation to convert more buildings and will have our two largest academic buildings online by September 2012, with more to follow.”

In talking with students, Katt said they’re not quite ready to cut the cord to their print textbooks.

“They tell me that they would take both print and ‘e’ if available, but they are not ready to give up that printed version,” she said. “I believe this goes along with what they feel comfortable with and have grown up with that experience. This will change with future generations. We are just not there yet.”

Estella McCollum, CCR, director, KU Bookstores, University of Kansas, Lawrence, said faculty opinion on her campus is mixed as far as course material preference is concerned.

“It varies,” she said. “We’ve got a good mix of those engaged in the future and some that are hesitant, but interested. Then there are those that are pretty comfortable with the printed book.”

McCollum’s store will soon take a proactive approach on merging more toward digital, with digital learning environment pilots slated to begin in the fall. McCollum wasn’t satisfied with waiting for the digital transition and adapting to it then. She made the store part of the conversation by going directly to McGraw-Hill and negotiating prices for its Connect learning environment. She later negotiated to bring Cengage’s CourseMate into the fold as well.

She’s confident that if faculty use the digital learning environments properly, which means the course could be conducted entirely online, the environments will be widely adopted for future use. She is so confident that her store is picking up the tab for the pilots.

“We are the distribution point,” McCollum said, “even if it’s in their Blackboard. We negotiate the bulk pricing. We will be the one who manages access codes and the sales.”

Chad Schreier, CCR, was recently named director of Jackets & Co., Montana State University, Billings, but for the last six years, he was director, Lebanon Valley College Store, Annville, PA. He said usage and questions over e-books vary across LVC departments and there’s quite a bit of confusion involved in the process.

“Many of the questions stem from the general uncertainty among faculty as to whether or not students can or will make use of the e-book option,” he noted. “In addition, we are seeing publishers include e-books as part of online access cards bundled with traditional textbooks, thereby compounding the confusion over what options and benefits the e-book alone can offer the students vs. the traditional text.”

For the most part, faculty are interested in adopting digital course materials but are reluctant because of concern for how they will be received by students.

“As for our students, rarely do we have students coming in looking specifically for the e-book version of a textbook,” Schreier said. “Most students come into the store looking to purchase what the faculty require.”

Trepidation will remain, he added, until there is a clear shift in the course material market, in addition to solutions for access rights and printing solutions.

“For the time being, it appears clear that rental will remain the most sought-after solution on most college campuses,” he said.

Schreier, like McCollum, feels bookstores must take a proactive role to educate both faculty and students on the benefits and possible issues surrounding digital course materials.

“More importantly, if we are truly looking toward the future and trying to emphasize customer experience, bookstores should work with faculty to offer the e-book as an option,” Schreier said. “Surveys continue to show that customers are looking for options in the textbook market. Working with the faculty to bring in traditional course materials, while offering e-book variants, can help test the viability of e-books on campus and help provide sound direction for future sales forecasting.

“While faculty remain the decision-makers in the textbook marketplace, it is the bookstore’s responsibility to be the facilitator to help faculty determine what products will help them in their goal to provide the best value in education to their students.”

NACS offers a free Campus Relations Toolkit on its web site to assist members in communicating with faculty and students. Go to the password-protected to access the tools.

For more information about the BISG studies, go to


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