Despite Booming eReader and eBook Sales, Many Students Still Prefer Traditional Textbooks

Campus Technology reported last week that although the eReader market experienced a dramatic increase in sales during the last holiday season, the e-textbook market has yet to feel the boom.

Companies specializing in e-textbooks, such as Inkling and CourseSmart, offer a fairly wide range of textbooks for a fraction of the price most university bookstores would charge for them. The books are purchased, downloaded, and viewed directly on an eReader or computer. Cheap textbooks and easy accessibility- it seems to be a college student’s dream come true!

But in one study, 3/4 of students surveyed said they would prefer to use a traditional paper textbook, as opposed to a digital e-textbook. Students found traditional textbooks much easier to interact with, and many thought them worth the higher price. Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling, even seems to agree:

“A book provides a really good user experience. It doesn’t crash. It’s predictable. You know exactly what you’re going to get. Simply putting a textbook on a Kindle or a Nook is actually a worse experience. You’re working entirely within the constraints of the book, but you’re taking away the convenience and reliability of the book.”

However, MacInnis’ company, and others like it, are working on ways to better, establish and differentiate the eReading experience, rather than mock the experience of reading from a book. According to MacInnis, in order for e-textbook companies to succeed, the experience needs to be “appreciably better than using a book”. Inkling has even gone as far as calling their e-textbook “titles” in place of the term “books”. Hopefully, these proposed modifications will speed up this slow-starting industry.

This year, eReader owners are expected to spend $1 billion on eBooks alone. By 2015, the amount is expected to increase to $3 billion.

To read the full article from the Campus Technology blog, click here.


  1. So I’m wondering how they define “appreciably better than using a book”? Would it include the ability to add to it or remix it? Multimedia? Linked texts? Social connections with other readers?

    One of the things I’m most interested in is to see how we evolve as readers and writers when we start to really swim in texts that are no longer just words. Could the students surveyed like paper more right now simply because it’s familiar?

  2. I’m wondering the same thing, Will! It will be interesting to see what the companies come up with…it’s hard to imagine a reading tool that isn’t comparable at all to a book.

    Personally, I think that students prefer to read material from a textbook (as opposed to an eTextbook or any reading material on the computer, really) because there is no multitasking on a book, and therefore, less distraction. When I am reading something on my computer, I usually have a lot of other windows and programs opened. I also wonder how quickly students could adapt to eTextbooks!

  3. E-textbooks can be challenging. I have an ipad and I STILL find myself preferring to read physical books over books on e-readers. Another option that students have is to rent books for a semester. Then there is no risk that the students are stuck with a book that they can’t sell.


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