1 HIGH TECH TEXTBOOKS: A SNAPSHOT OF STUDENT OPINIONS Executive Summary The Student Public Interest Research Groups October 2009 Textbooks are an essential but increasingly expensive part of obtaining a college degree. With students spending $900 per year and prices rising faster than inflation, the need for a solution is increasingly urgent. New developments in the textbook marketplace suggest that we are growing closer to a solution. Several new technologies that recently entered the marketplace e- readers, netbooks, iphones - promise new methods of distributing and consuming textbooks, which could mean significant savings for students. With the beginnings of innovation emerging, it is important to understand students perspectives. What do students want? How can evolving technologies best meet their needs? To answer these questions, the Student PIRGs conducted a study of student opinion on these new technologies, consisting of a 1,133 student survey plus follow- up focus groups. While the results cannot be generalized to the larger student population, the study is designed to provide a useful snapshot of today s students. Findings 1. Kindle, e- readers attractive, except for concerns about cost. 40% of the students who were at least somewhat familiar with e- readers said that they were likely or very likely to switch from print textbooks to e- readers, based on what they knew. In follow- up focus groups, students generally became less interested in switching to e- readers upon learning the cost of common e- readers. 2. ipod, iphone textbooks would be convenient. More than a third (38%) of the students said that they would use a textbook on their ipod, iphone, or similar device frequently or all the time, if the option was available. 77% of the students said that they would use it at least a few times. 3. Print is still preferred over digital, but students like both 70% said they prefer to read textbooks in print rather than on a computer if cost is not a factor. 30% of the students said that they would pay extra to have both print and digital versions of their textbooks. Conclusions The key is to create a marketplace. Solving the problem of textbook affordability will mean finding an affordable alternative that suits all students. Given students widely different budgets and learning styles, it is best to create a system where students can choose from a multitude of options, including ipod textbooks, e- books and e- readers alongside traditional print textbooks. Affordability depends on the cost of content. Providing students with new ways to consume their textbooks is an important step in the right direction, but it is only a solution if students can acquire the actual content of their textbooks affordably. Textbook publishers must look for models that do not rely on excessive prices or heavy restrictions on digital copies, such as open textbooks.
2 Introduction The cost of college textbooks has become a significant component of the college affordability debate. Previous studies by the Student PIRGs find that the average student spends $900 per year on textbooks, and that prices are rising several times the rate of inflation. 1 A previous study by the Government Accountability Office found that textbooks and supplies comprise 26% of tuition at an average four- year public university and 72% of tuition at a community college. 2 Facing such high ancillary costs, some students are forced to make the difficult decision to take on additional loan or credit card debt, to undercut their own education by forgoing the purchase of textbooks, or even to drop out because of cost. Although textbook prices are only a component of skyrocketing college costs, they have become a significant tipping- point expense for low and middle- income students. Textbook publishers continue to drive prices skyward Over the last five years, the Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs) have documented multiple tactics that textbook publishers use to drive up costs. 3 These practices range from releasing unnecessary new editions to drive used books off the market, to bundling textbooks with expensive supplements that add little educational value. More recently, research has found that publisher e- textbook offerings are overpriced and too restrictive. These practices would not be tolerated in a normal producer- consumer relationship, but the dynamic between publishers and students permits such market abuses. The textbook market is flawed because students are assigned which textbooks to buy, giving them little choice but to pay publishers prices. Faculty have some ability to reduce costs on students behalf, but they cannot always find an affordable book that meets their teaching needs. The fundamental solution to this problem is to make the market more student- centric. Students can gain market power through options like format and mode of delivery print or digital, black & white or color, online or offline while faculty still remain in charge of selecting content. This would insert at least some level of competition into the market, and put pressure on publishers to price options according to their value to students. A changing marketplace For decades, students have had two options for purchasing their textbooks: new or used. Even as other industries music, news, film have moved toward online distribution, textbooks have stayed primarily in print. Many factors contribute to the sluggish pace of innovation in the textbooks market, including students general preference for printed books 4 and the fact that market is driven by faculty, rather than student demand. However, developments in the past few years suggest that things may finally be changing. Several new technologies emerging into the marketplace promise new methods of distributing and consuming textbooks, which could mean significant savings for students. Netbooks. Netbooks offer virtually all of the basic functions of a regular laptop computer, while being smaller and significantly less expensive. Most major textbook titles are available in digital
3 form already, so students could simply load their texts onto a netbook rather than trying to juggle a stack of heavy print books. E- readers. E- readers are tablet- style electronic devices with screens that mimic the look and feel of paper. Our previous research suggests that students have highly variant levels of comfort reading on a computer screen, 5 so e- readers could alleviate some of the concerns about digital textbooks. Classroom trials of e- readers, such as Amazon s textbook- optimized Kindle DX, have reported mixed results. However, this technology is rapidly evolving. iphone. The iphone is rapidly becoming one of the most widely used handsets in the US, 6 and an ipod is practically a staple for college students. This summer, digital textbook provider CourseSmart.com released an application for the iphone and ipod touch that allows students to access online textbook subscriptions. While the CourseSmart e- textbook model has serious flaws, 7 delivering textbooks through the iphone seems to have tremendous potential. While questions still remain about whether students can acquire their textbooks affordably through these devices, offering multiple options for reading textbooks makes the marketplace more student- centric. Publishers would still need to get professors to adopt their textbooks, but demand for different textbook formats will be driven by students. The purpose of this study With the beginnings of innovation emerging in the textbooks market, it is important to understand students perspectives. What do students want? How can evolving technologies best meet their needs? We think it is important to investigate whether these new alternatives are wanted, and which are most desirable. To that end, the Student PIRGs designed this study to shed light on student attitudes toward new ways of consuming their textbooks. Survey Findings During the fall of 2009, the Student Public Interest Research Groups conducted a study of student opinion on new developments in the textbooks marketplace. The study consisted of a survey of 1133 students from 17 institutions, plus three follow- up focus groups. While we cannot generalize the results to the larger student population, we designed this study to provide a useful snapshot of today s students. Overall, the results of this survey indicate that students are ready to explore new ways to read their textbooks. Students expressed interest in each of the new options presented, which suggests that the market is open to many different products rather than just one silver bullet. Also, despite their willingness to consider new options, students showed an overwhelming preference for continuing to use print books in the mean time.
4 1. E- readers are attractive, except for concerns about price. Students expressed strong interest in e- readers as a potential substitute for print textbooks. The survey asked students first to rate their knowledge of e- readers, and then to rate their likeliness to switch to using an e- reader instead of printed textbooks. 40% of the students who were at least somewhat familiar with e- readers said that they were likely or very likely to switch from print textbooks to e- readers, based on what they knew. Since this question is based largely on student perceptions of e- readers, we conducted follow- up focus groups to better understand the answers. Generally, we found that students were not aware of the costs associated with e- readers. They assumed that individual textbooks would cost less to acquire, but few students had considered the cost of purchasing the device itself. 8 Upon finding out the cost of common e- readers, 9 students generally became less interested in switching to e- readers. Aside from cost, students concerns generally revolved around features of the device itself. The primary reason students were interested in e- readers was the convenience and portability. The primary concern students had was being able to effectively highlight, bookmark and take notes in the margins. Overall, interest seems to be strong among students who are aware of e- readers, but a substantial portion of the students surveyed had not yet heard of e- readers. About half (53%) of the students indicated that they were not familiar with e- readers. 2. ipod, iphone textbooks would be convenient. Students would take advantage of reading textbooks on ipods or iphones if the option were available. The survey asked students to rate how often they would use an ipod or iphone version of their textbook, if it were provided with their regular print textbook. More than a third (38%) of the students said that they would use a textbook on their ipod, iphone, or similar device frequently or all the time, if the option was available. 77% of the students said that they would use it at least a few times. In the focus groups, we looked into why students thought ipod textbooks would be useful, and whether students would be willing to pay for them. Students generally thought that reading a textbook exclusively on an ipod or iphone would be difficult. However, having the option would be convenient for occasional use, since students usually carry their ipod or iphone with them. There was no consensus on whether students would pay extra for an ipod or iphone version of their textbooks, although a handful of the students seemed strongly interested. Textbooks formatted for ipods and iphones have tremendous potential to catch on quickly, because most students already have the technology.
5 Only 8% of the students surveyed said that they did not own an ipod, iphone or similar device. 3. Print is still preferred over digital, but students like both. Students are not ready to toss their print textbooks, but they are ready to explore using digital versions at the same time. The survey asked students to indicate whether they would prefer to use textbooks only in print, only on a computer, or a combination of the two. 70% of the students said that they prefer to use textbooks primarily in print, and 30% said that they prefer computer % of the students indicated that they would rather use a combination of print and digital versions, rather than just one or the other. In the question above, students were asked to answer without taking cost into account. The survey also asked students who preferred the combination of print and digital whether they would pay extra to have both. About a third (30%) of the students said that they would pay extra to have both print and digital versions of their textbooks. Conclusion It is clear that technology is the future of textbooks, but question is how soon that future will arrive. Overall, the results of this survey indicate that students are ready to explore new ways to consume their textbooks, but at the same time, they are not looking for rapid change. Moving forward, it is important to remember two things. First, student preferences vary greatly, so the transition to high tech textbooks should be driven by student demand. Second, technology is only half of the affordability equation, so textbook content must be affordable before technology is a solution. The key is to create a marketplace Students clearly want new options: 40% of the students we surveyed were strongly interested in e- readers, 38% in ipod textbooks, and 30% in computer- based textbooks. While these percentages are promising signs of demand, they are also reminders that students have vastly different preferences. For example, e- readers might be the solution for students who do not want to carry heavy books, but they would not be a solution for students who learn by highlighting and annotating by hand. Another important reminder from this survey is that the clear majority still chose print textbooks over digital. Even though technology is an institution in students lives, it does not necessarily follow that they want to switch to high tech textbooks. Solving the problem of textbook affordability will mean finding an affordable alternative that suits all students. Given students widely different budgets and learning styles, it seems unlikely that there will be a silver bullet. Therefore, the key is to create a system where students can choose from a multitude of options, including ipod textbooks, e- books and e- readers alongside traditional print textbooks. As
6 these and other technologies emerge, we should favor an inclusive marketplace rather than seeking an single solution. Affordability ultimately depends on the cost of content We have already stated that the solution to the textbook affordability problem is to make the market more student- centric. Providing students with many ways to consume their textbooks is an important step in the right direction; distributing textbooks digitally cuts production and distribution costs, and creating a competitive marketplace will fuel innovation. However, technology is only a solution if students can acquire the actual content of their textbooks affordably. Right now, it is not clear whether students can. For example, Calculus: Early Transcendentals by James Stewart, which retails new for $213.95, costs $ for the Kindle DX e- reader and $ as an e- book from CourseSmart. The same book can be rented in print for $63.49 at Chegg.com or purchased used for as low as $89.99 online. While the digital books offer savings off of the retail price, those prices can hardly be considered a solution. To solve textbook affordability, there must be innovation on the content side as well as the technology side. Textbook publishers must look for new ways to sell their textbooks without relying on excessive prices or heavy restrictions on digital copies. Some publishers are already exploring new models. Most notably, the new company Flat World Knowledge 11 publishes open textbooks, which permit users to access, copy and share the text for free. Flat World s business model is built on offering the basic textbooks free online and then selling students products that they are likely to purchase: print copies, study guides, audio books, and specially formatted downloads. Their prices are reasonable, since each paid product is competing against the free online version, and students only buy the items that they need. This is an example of a model where student demand drives the market, which is the ultimate solution to high textbook costs. Methodology The Student PIRGs conducted an anonymous multiple- choice survey plus two follow up focus groups and student interviews using the following methodology. Student Survey First, we conducted an anonymous, multiple- choice survey of 1,133 undergraduate 12 students from 17 colleges during October From the start, we recognized that selecting a truly random sample to represent the 19 million US college students 13 would be difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, we chose to design a study that could capture general attitudes of students and provide a snapshot of their opinions. Therefore, our methodology emphasized collecting a large number of opportunistic responses The majority of the surveys were collected at tables in busy areas on campus staffed by PIRG volunteers and interns. Volunteers would approach students as they passed by and ask them to stop to take the survey. Students would then fill out a survey form and turn it in. A smaller number of surveys were
7 collected in classes and student group meetings. All volunteers were given a standard script and FAQ to follow. Once collected, surveys were stored in a locked office or with a PIRG staff person. PIRG volunteers then entered the results into spreadsheets, which were later aggregated. Surveys Collected 58 Colorado University, Boulder 21 Evergreen State College 17 Mass Bay Community College 6 Sacramento City College 61 Salem State College 38 Santa Monica College 15 UMASS- Amherst 149 UMASS- Dartmouth 55 University of Arizona 60 University of California, Davis 71 University of California, Irvine 44 University of California, Santa Barbara 69 University of California, Santa Cruz 65 University of Connecticut 108 University of Southern California 158 University of Washington 138 University of Wisconsin, Madison Questions Asked What is your year in school? Assuming cost is not a factor, which of the following options would you prefer? (choice of print textbooks, print textbooks with digital supplements, digital textbooks with print supplements, digital textbooks) If the option you chose in the previous question cost extra, would you still choose it? If you could put a digital version of your textbook on an ipod, iphone or similar device, how often would you use it? How would you describe your familiarity with e- readers, such as Amazon s Kindle? Based on what you know, would you switch from using regular printed textbooks to using textbooks on an e- reader, such as Amazon s Kindle? Calculations To calculate each statistic, we counted the number of students who selected each answer, and divided it by the total number of students who answered the corresponding question. Focus Groups Once results from the survey were tabulated, we conducted a series of small focus groups to gain a better understanding of the reasons behind students answers. We conducted two follow- up focus groups at Santa Monica College and the University of Southern California, plus 20 individual student interviews at UMASS- Dartmouth and the University of Washington. In each case, the conversations were led by PIRG staff using a standard list of questions to start discussion. Results from focus groups are highly subjective, so we present this information not as fact but as context to better explain the answers students gave.
8 1 Rip- off 101: Second Edition. The Student PIRGs, Government Accountability Office (GAO) College Textbooks Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases. GAO All PIRG reports can be downloaded from 4 Course Correction: How Digital Textbooks Are Off Track And How To Set Them Straight. The Student PIRGs, See Course Correction. 6 See market- share- grew in- q2/ 7 See Course Correction. 8 Newspaper articles about Kindle DX and Sony Reader trials were a common source of students information about e- readers. Students participating in trials are typically given a free e- reader, so this could be the reason that students taking the survey did not think about purchasing a device. 9 $ for Kindle DX (source: Wireless- Reading- Display- Generation/dp), $ for the latest Sony Reader (source: 10 Our 2008 study found that 75% of the students surveyed would prefer print textbooks to digital textbooks. See Course Correction. 11 See the company website for more information.http:// 12 Surveys with Graduate or Other selected were removed from the study. Of the undergraduates, 37.9% selected Freshman, 22.5% Sophomore, 21.6% Junior, and 18.0% Senior. 13 The U.S. Census estimates that 19 million students enrolled in colleges and universities this fall. See Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Table Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/ html Written by Nicole Allen, Textbooks Advocate 2009 The Student PIRGs 44 Winter St, 4 th Floor Boston, MA This work is licensed under the Creative Commons- Attribution 3.0 License.