FiT, BISG, and the future of the textbook

At the Book Industry Study Group (#BISG) conference on ebooks and higher learning, which took place last month in New York, several industry specialists turned their attention to the manifest destiny of digital texts and trade books.

The conference opened with the statement, “There is tremendous noise in the industry.”

It’s hard to avoid the oft-overused “Wild West” descriptor, but it’s true. It was apparent today that while industry gurus have a strong grasp on focus groups, marketing numbers, and projected stats, the future of digital media in higher learning is still a great unknown. While it is achievable to poll several thousand students from 1,100 universities and colleges across the Western world to see what their preferences and current trends are, it is difficult to predict the impact of technology as it changes as fast as people can assemble a business plan.

The conversion from print to digital media has been complex. According to Steve Paxhia, President of Kaplan Publishing, three years ago only 1.5% of magazines were read online, compared to 38% today. And newspapers are finding 61% of their readers are getting their news online. Trade books had no digital market four years ago (this fact can probably be refuted, although minimally), yet today their digital share is 10% and doubling annually.

But textbooks are tricky. Students are confounding predictions, since conventional wisdom suggests that they are the first to adopt “gadgets” like androids and iPhones, iPads and tablets, and Kindles and Nooks. But the economy has dragged down student pocketbooks, as well as the pocketbooks of their families. Fewer loans are going out, tuition has been rising, and the cost of textbooks continues to escalate.

BISG put out a lot of great information, some of the highlights are listed below:

—The longer students are in school, the more likely they are to obtain their study material via alternative methods. Some of methods of procurement include: copying textbooks, downloading texts and quizzes from online sources, screen capturing, using International texts, and staying with old editions (only 62% stick with current new/used editions).

—Students still prefer print textbooks by a 4 to 1 margin. Reasons for this include: high expenses of technology, the ability to resell textbooks for “money” (of an undefined number), because they are directed to by faculty, and the feel and permanence of print (they are able to carry that book with them into their careers).

—The top four platforms students use for ebooks are: 1) Laptop computer, 2) Desktop computer, 3) Kindle, and 4) iPad. Computers (#1 and #2) overwhelmingly make up the vast majority of platforms.

Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Publishing Services for RR Bowker, says that in spite of dire predictions of the textbook market, it continues to grow. One reason for this is the massive return of professionals to school, due to the state of the economy.

—Textbooks that deal with the sciences are more often kept by students, unlike liberal arts textbooks.

—According to Rob Reynolds, Director of Product Design and Research at Xplana, for-profit universities, tech schools, and colleges are continuing to rise dramatically. From 2005-2010, they rose from 903 to 1,215.

—Because of the economical strain, students have become much more savvy with their purchasing, as quoted by the National Association of College Stores (NACS). Students are comparing prices, shopping around, and are utilizing coupons and discounts.

—Students are a great test group, because they are willing to experiment with new technology, but only as long as there is a viable, tangible reward or payoff.

—There is a new future developing where textbooks are going to experience the “iTunes effect”; that is, they are going to be chopped up into smaller, more affordable segments that can be pieced together into a custom ebook.

How does this relate to FiT? We have made a committment to listening to the professors, faculty, and students that we engage with on a daily basis. We solicit their thoughts and needs, and plan accordingly. We have been making several of our books available as an accessible, interactive e-book. We also realize that many students like to keep their hands on hard copies of texts for future reference, or as a type of barter that enables cash-in-pocket at the end of the semester (although e-books are usually, ultimately cheaper down the stretch).

We are interested in hearing what you have to say, and we want to know your thoughts. Whether you’re a new student in a sport psychology course, an academic who wants our trade books on the iPad2, or you’re a faculty member that wants a comprehensive package of print, digital, and “packaged” slides and material, please drop us an email to fiteditors@mail.wvu.edu. Tell us what you like, what you want to see us do, and what suggestions you have for us. We welcome all of your ideas and comments. You can even tell us what we’re doing right!

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