Electronic textbook sales low at BCIT

Cost and format differences might be making electronic textbooks an unattractive option for BCIT students


Electronic book sales have been consistently low across post-secondary schools in BC, and BCIT is no exception.

Electronic versions of textbooks have been offered at BCIT for a few years now, but numbers show that students still prefer the traditional, paper-based textbooks to the electronic version.

BCIT bookstore course materials buyer Rebecca Scott says that while the electronic book sales for the past fiscal year have gone up 25 per cent, they make up a very small part of the overall book sales.

“We keep hearing about how everyone wants digital and electronic, and there is certainly some sales activity, but it’s not like everyone wants digital,” Scott told The Link. “The e-book sales were less than $100 000, which would be about two per cent of the overall sales.”

Scott explained that while the electronic textbook trend is not picking up at other post-secondary bookstores either — averaging five to six per cent of overall sales — low numbers at BCIT may be partially the result of the institution’s large trade sector.

According to Scott, most trades programs use modules instead of academic textbooks. The modules are binders that contain lessons and exercises — students are required to have a hard copy.

“It actually wouldn’t make sense to have them in an e-book version because they are workbooks,” Scott explains. Electronic versions of the modules would still require students to print parts of the books, defeating the main purpose of paperless e-books.

Another reason Scott feels electronic versions of textbooks are not as popular among BCIT students as paper-based textbooks might be the lack of a consistent format across different e-book publishers.

“There are ones that are just a PDF version of the paper-based version in its entirety, and then you can get an e-book version that’s interactive,” Scott explained. “There’s not much standardization for the industry and it gets more confusing for everybody.”

In addition to format issues, students cannot browse electronic textbooks as they can with the paper-based versions.

E-book publishers offer different ways to get their books: some offer cards with access codes, while others re-direct the students to a website where the books are sold.

Scott says this inability to see the product makes students hesitant to pay the hefty price for an e-book.

“As a bookstore, it is a bit difficult for us when this is what we’re selling, the student then wants to know what the e-book looks like,” Scott says. “It’s difficult for us to help a student when we really don’t know.”

[pullquote]”Low numbers at BCIT may be partially result of the institution’s large trade sector.”[/pullquote]

Finally, the cost of electronic textbooks is not much kinder on the student budget than paper-based books.

While most students expect the less tangible product to be less expensive, Scott explains that in reality they are only about two-thirds of the cost of a paper-based version due to the content:

“It’s not huge savings, especially if the student is then going to find that they need to print out a lot of these pages.”

Despite the current situation, Scott remains optimistic about the future of the electronic textbook. She says that instructors in the schools of business and health sciences at BCIT have also been requesting more electronic textbooks to be available to their students.

Scott explained that the bookstore has been making a concerted effort to add more electronic textbook titles to their virtual shelves in the past academic year. And with the increasingly common use of tablets and smartphones in the classroom, the electronic textbook might just make a comeback at post-secondary bookstores yet.



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