All in the Delivery

From Inside Higher Ed:

With another summer ending, the time has come to ask the perennial question: Could this be the year higher education finally embraces the e-book?

Some think that developments since the last buying cycle, particularly the arrival of Apple’s iPad computing tablet, might foreshadow an especially good year for the electronic texts. CourseSmart, the e-textbook consortium comprising five major publishers, says it has sold four times more e-textbooks in 2009-10 than it did the previous year.

Others are more skeptical about whether e-books will finally boom after years of stalled progress. “They’ve been saying that for the last 10 years,” says Nicole Allen, an advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).

One reason it is difficult to parse the prospects for e-books this year is that many other things are happening in the textbook market that make “traditional textbook vs. e-book” a false dichotomy. These days, traditional books have electronic supplements; some electronic texts have print-on-demand options; and for many students, textbook decisions have more to do with renting vs. buying than print vs. digital.

The explosive growth of online education seems to imply a mainstream acceptance of the computer screen as medium for instruction. And then there is the widely accepted argument that printed textbooks, like other analog vessels, belong to an economic model that no longer makes sense.

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