Thursday, September 24, 2009

Textbook Affordability

by Anthony Hennen

With the rising cost of college and the economic downturn that we are currently facing, students and institutions alike are looking at ways to cut costs. Possibly the best way to reduce costs would be to incorporate technological advances to assist in bringing the price of college down. Textbooks appear to be an area where technology can drastically reduce costs. The average student incurs a cost of $700-$1,000 each academic year from textbooks alone; from 1987-2004 textbooks costs rose 109% at four-year public universities.

The Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader debuting on the market make digital textbooks a more practical, viable alternative to buying a $200 science book from the college bookstore down the street and could replace most physical textbooks in the next 5-10 years. Various efforts are already underway promoting digital textbooks to save students money. The Campaign to Reduce College Textbook Costs pushes for more accessibility to digital textbooks to drive down costs. Open Educational Resource (OER) is a collection of digital resources for educators to use materials that include almost 200 digital textbooks.

The digital textbook market is still fairly limited, but two sources are Textbook Media and Flat World Knowledge. The success of these could propel traditional publishers to embrace the digital option and better alter the textbook market. Flat World Knowledge is expected to have 50 textbooks in development by 2010, and Textbook Media currently has a library of almost 40 textbooks.

Currently digital textbooks do have some drawbacks. As a report by the California State Auditor in August 2008 highlights, publishers usually restrict how many pages students can print, and some digital textbooks expire after a certain date. When limitations are modified or abolished on digital textbooks, the demand for them will rise and lower the costs and price in the textbook market.

Anthony Hennen is a student at Ohio University and a research associate of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity

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