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Students weigh benefits of e-textbooks

By By Jewell Washington

Contributing reporter

Published: Monday, February 6, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 6, 2012

Roosevelt University bookstore now offering e-textbooks.

Photo by Poeabby Masoud

Roosevelt University bookstore now offering e-textbooks.

Like many Roosevelt University students, Brandon Ousley was completely overwhelmed with buying class books this spring, specially as the third year journalism student searched for a Psychology 102 course book priced around $150.

"I kept looking around and I just could not find it because it was an older edition," Ousley said.

Ousley eventually downloaded a Sony e-reader version of the book for $85.

"I was so amazed to find that book because it was so expensive." he said.

Ousely has taken the technological schoolbook approach before. Last semester, he purchased two e-versions out of six required textbooks.

Third year journalism student, James Risley, also purchased an e-textbook for a former statistics class. It came with a $70 price tag.

"I think there's a lot of potential in the market...I think its a good investment," Risely said.

Daniel Smrokowski, a fourth year journalism student isn't as sold on the idea.

"I thought about buying an e-textbook a couple of years ago," Smrokowski said. "In a way, I'm old-fashioned and prefer the paper books even though it's heavier to carry around."

According to a U.S. Oncampus Research study, 75 percent of 18,000 students felt like Smrokowski, preferring a printed textbook over a digital one. Students revealed they don't like digital for risk of losing book content and buyback options post-semester.

Yet, major textbook publishers like the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson and John Wiley & Sons are surfing the e-textbook wave like never before.

Why?

Over the years, students have dodged new textbooks by buying used, library borrowing, sharing, renting, downloading illegal versions or simply going without. Publishers collect a fee only when students buy new books, giving the companies a financial impetus to crank out updated editions whether the content needs refreshing or not.

Publishers and colleges are now claiming more affordable prices for e-textbook buying students, often through booksellers like Barnes & Noble, for example, that offer NOOK study. Roosevelt students can currently buy a NOOK e-textbook via the University bookstore and, after providing debit or credit card account information to Barnes & Noble, can download the e-book to a Mac or PC.

Some for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix, require students to pay a course-materials ‘e-textbook only' fee. Students who want to read the physical copy face additional fees.

Traditional campuses haven't yet opted in to that model but Roosevelt University bookstore manager, Eric Medalis, says students do save money, avoid heavy books and are more organized with e-textbooks.

"Students can highlight in multiple colors...assign notes ...open books side by side for real-time reference and do Google searches." Medalis said, "That's how we interact with information today and it makes sense that textbooks should evolve in the same way."

According to Medalis, Roosevelt e-textbook sales were up 26 percent in fall 2011 and 34 percent this Spring over last year sales.

"Society has changed," Roosevelt Journalism Professor John Fountain said. "We're part of a technological evolution which is changing they way we're reading books."

Some argue that evolution could essentially eliminate the used physical textbook market. Whether that's due to honest innovation or the unscrupulous desire for more profits depends on which student you ask.

"I'm just used to having the textbook," Smrokowski said. "It may take a while to get used to the e-textbook if I ever do."

Ousely added, "Physical textbooks may definitely lose their appeal in the next few years. I'm just so grateful I was able to get my e-textbook at the price I did."

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