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For Many Students, Print Is Still King

Posted by admin on 2/4/13 10:00 PM
Topics: digital content, Higher Ed, retail technology, textbook affordability

The following excerpt, from the article 'For Many Students, Print Is Still King,' was written by Jennifer Howard and published on The Chronicle of Higher Education. Although the media often stresses that eBooks outnumber print books, Howard reminds us with her relevant examples that this simply is not the case in the realm of higher education. Take a look at some real testimonies from publishers and professors alike in the following excerpt then read the full article for further insight.

Despite the hype about e-books, the classic textbook hasn't gone away. In fact, the hold-it-in-your-hands book remains the first choice for many instructors and students. Even as publishers scramble to produce new kinds of content for a digital learning environment, print is still king for many of the biggest-selling textbooks. Students want cheaper textbooks and have gotten more creative about acquiring them, but most aren't calling for a digital revolution, according to some recent surveys. "The vast majority of students still prefer print," says Michael Wright, director of college sales at Norton. Even publishers that have invested more heavily in new digital features say they're not doing away with books but making them part of "customizable learning experiences," to borrow a phrase from Pearson, the biggest player in the field. "We still print everything," says Jerome Grant, the company's chief learning officer for higher education. Pearson's aim is not "to bias print or digital but to offer the experience in multiple formats." Think of this as the era of "print-plus," when the most popular textbook option remains a book—often printed and bound, sometimes digital—plus whatever extras and enhancements professors and students are willing to pay for.

The 'Comfort' of Print

Julie K. Bartley, an associate professor of geology and chair of the geology department at Gustavus Adolphus College, hears the sentiment from her undergraduates. "Our students don't really want to have e-books," Ms. Bartley says. "What I hear from them a lot of times is that they feel some sort of comfort in being able to hold the thing in their hands." Her department's decision to stick with a classic textbook has been driven partly by students' preferences, partly by the college's pedagogical philosophy. The "Principles of Geology" course that Ms. Bartley and her colleagues teach satisfies a core science requirement and serves as an introduction to the major. Any textbook it uses has to appeal both to general-ed students and rising science majors. The assigned text, Earth: Portrait of a Planet, Fourth Edition, published by Norton, "is neither excessively complicated nor excessively simplified," Ms. Bartley says. "It's right at the reading level of most of our students." The book requires some careful reading attention, which remains a priority for the college. At Gustavus Adolphus, Ms. Bartley says, "we feel that every college student should be able to read a relatively complicated, unfamiliar text." Students' major concern about textbooks isn't format but cost. "Probably the second biggest complaint in northern Minnesota after the weather is the cost of textbooks," Ms. Bartley says. The department has used the book for several years. To accommodate the desire for used-book options, the instructors phased in the latest edition of the book so that the older edition could stay in use a little longer. So far, supplemental online material hasn't been a deciding factor in choosing a textbook, according to Ms. Bartley. "We don't feel like it's central enough to the way we teach," she says, because the course revolves around what happens in the classroom.

'A Fast Transition'

Pearson, too, has placed bigger bets on new kinds of digital services. Jerome Grant, the company's chief learning officer, describes how, at Pearson, "print is simply one of the outputs" of a program that emphasizes combinations of content, applications, platforms, and services. "Today the dominant model is a sort of text-media value pack," he says, "where people use something like MyLab for homework or remediation." (MyLab offers interactive content designed to draw students into course material and help them test their knowledge.) Those "value packs" often include a textbook, bundled with digital materials and services. Mr. Grant does not expect print products to vanish. "Do I envision a time when people won't buy print? No," he says. "Do I envision a time when the predominant distribution mechanism is digital? Absolutely." Over at John Wiley & Sons, Tim Stookesberry sees signs of "a fast transition from a print to a digital world." He serves as Wiley's vice president and editorial director for global education. Less than 50 percent of the company's higher-education revenue still comes from "pure print products," he says, down more than 5 percent from two years ago. Decline does not spell doom for the old-school textbook, though. "Increasingly the issue is not either/or," Mr. Stookesberry says of the nagging print-versus-digital question. "It's a both-and-all conversation."

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