Print Textbooks Still Dominate Market as Digital Texts Emerging Slowly

As more schools offer online classes, the demand for digital textbooks is increasing. Big players in textbook industry are transitioning to digital educational materials from traditional print models, but according to Ashley Mungiguerra of The Daily Beast, print textbooks are still dominating the campus market as the move to e-books is likely to be slower and bumpier than many anticipated.

Cengage Learning, which is one of the largest digital textbook publishers, in July 2013 voluntarily filed for bankruptcy. The company, with almost $6 billion in debt, laid out a restructuring plan to “introduce innovative digital and print products,” and “meet our customers’ evolving needs.”

This isn’t necessarily the end of Cengage, but it does reflect the changes in the textbook industry. In an interview with The New York Times, shortly after declaring bankruptcy, Cengage said its decision will “support our long-term business strategy of transiting from traditional print models to digital educational and research materials.”

Cengage plans to slowly move to digital learning methods.

Publishing giant McGraw-Hill also is planning to replace textbooks with e-books. McGraw-Hill vice president of learning solutions Tom Malek, in a column for Forbes, said the company is making a plan for replacing textbooks with e-books. According to Malek, e-books are the “presumed future of higher education” because they are cheaper and easier to transport.

However, the transition to e-books on campus is likely to be slower. Many professors and students still prefer the print textbooks than the digital versions, arguing that print textbooks have many advantages over digital books. Malek noted that only around 3% of students are using e-books and that not all e-books are cheaper than print books.

Taylor Scartozzi, a junior advertising major at the University of Texas, is sticking to print. “My favorite thing about having a printed textbook is that I can write notes directly onto the pages. When I go back to study later, the notes I make in my book help me to focus on studying.” I haven’t given up on textbooks, but I rarely buy them. If I can, I get a digital version of a book on my iPad (which is often the cheaper option) or rent from sites like Amazon and Chegg.

According to a survey conducted in 2012 by e-book publisher Bookboon, 75% of students decided not to buy their required textbooks, and some 70% of students at the University of Oklahoma did not buy all their required books. Students say that the textbooks are too expensive and are only used once or twice a semester. Most students prefer to rent the e-books or borrow from friends.

Despite all these things, young people, who live their lives on smartphones, tablets, and computers, are still buying print textbooks — and they are likely to do so for several more years. The revenues of the textbook industry continue to grow largely because of the rise in prices, as textbook prices have tripled since 1986 at twice the rate of inflation.

In coming years, it is expected that e-books will dominate print textbooks because they are less expensive and easy to transport. The transformation of transitional education system into online learning and teaching will also boost e-books industry. In the global market, however, print books will continue to dominate the campus market for the decades.