From grade school to grad school, textbooks are a must for students who want to gain the full educational experience available. Yet the cost can be prohibitive, and many cash-strapped college kids may have to choose between buying books and buying their next meal. This isn’t how things have to be, however. An increasing number of schools and publishers provide students with alternative, low-cost ways to acquire their textbooks.
Many current trends already majorly impact colleges around the nation, and will likely go from being the exception to the norm over the next decade. Whether you’re a student looking to save on books, a professor trying to respect their financial limitations or a book publisher trying to keep up with the changing market, these trends are something you need watch.
Many students will be heading back to school this year with a lighter backpack and a heavier wallet thanks to digital textbooks. Colleges, retailers and publishing companies are making the switch, as devices like the Nook, Kindle and iPad grow increasingly popular on campus. This fall, over 7,000 titles will be available to students as e-books — a number that doesn’t include works of literature or non-fiction often used in courses. While the majority of students still prefer traditional textbooks, the trend could change soon, with rising costs and a wider selection of available e-reader devices.
With the average student spending over $1,000 a school year on books, college kids are looking for ways to save big. One way many are doing so involves renting instead of buying. Loaner books can cost 60% to 80% less than a new one, meaning big savings that often can’t be matched — even when rolling used. For students who don’t need to keep their books from year to year, this can be an amazing deal. Sites like Chegg, eFollett and BookRenter are making it simple for students to order books online and have them waiting at their doorstep before classes start.
In some parts of the country, textbook prices have risen as much as 22% in the past few years alone. With new editions being put out every few years, students can’t sell back used books and make back any of their investment. Many schools are fighting back, believing that affordable textbooks should be available for all enrollees. In Texas, House Bill 33 was introduced mandating that universities provide students with information on their required texts at least one month before classes begin and assistance locating the best prices. Other institutions, like Marshall University, have formed committees on textbook affordability to help state and school develop better policies. These laws and programs may just push publishers into providing cheaper options for students unable to afford new textbooks each semester.
With a large portion of college students coming to campus with smartphone in hand, it only makes sense that many are using them not only to text and make calls, but order books as well. Take the app Kno, for instance. It was the number one back-to-school download for the iPad, and provides students with access to over 100,000 digital textbooks. Traditional book retailers are also doing well over smartphones and mobile tools, with apps for Amazon, Chegg and Half.com also popular. When students are done with textbooks, they can easily get the best prices for selling them online, using tools like the BookScouter app.
Long gone are the days of students only being able to buy whatever books the college bookstores made available. Now, the majority of students do bargain shopping online before deciding where to purchase their texts. Sites like SwoopThat, BookBurro and BigWords can help students easily find the best deals on any required materials for class — usually with very little effort involved. While sometimes the best deals will be found through college bookstores, students these days have a lot of options when shopping. They may find used books more cheaply on the internet, driving up the popularity the online textbook industry — as well as sites making it simple to bargain hunt through multiple stores.
Prior to the digital age, it was pretty hard to pirate textbooks. Today, however, many publishers are struggling to keep pirates from sharing their copyrighted material online. Textbook pirates operate by making digital scans, and then posting them online for students — sometimes completely gratis. One of the sites, LibraryPirate, hosts over 1,700 illegally copied textbooks to date. Some think these will force publishers to lower the costs of electronic textbooks, so students feel more motivated to download them legitimately instead of stealing.
An increasing number of students will purchase an e-reader or be given one by their college this year.
Whether students go for the popular Kindle or a more multi-purpose gadget like the iPad, e-reader devices are hot items on campuses this year. Some campuses are even giving them out to incoming freshmen. However students come by them, they’re rapidly growing in popularity, and may be a major reason e-books and e-textbooks are considered such attractive alternatives. With e-readers unlikely to go away anytime soon, more and more textbook publishers may be looking for ways to go digital.
Students looking for an alternative to traditional textbook retailers might want to check out the increasingly popular Flat World Knowledge. The company offers students the option to buy an all-access pass for texts, so they can use them in any format they’d like. And, in addition, get access to the company’s study guides and printable materials. The license to use these materials never expires. So as long as students need the books, they can use them. The company is also looking into institutional licenses, which would allow professors to provide all enrollees with access to a digital text — at a much lower cost! This model has been successful so far, and with the growing popularity of online textbooks, it could see major growth over the next few years. It’s entirely likely they’ll spark some copycats who may just give them competition.
Many professors don’t want to put undue financial stress on students, so they’re looking for alternatives to textbooks. Some, like Jeremy Short, a business professor in Oklahoma, are using graphic novels and comic books as a low-cost alternative. With many educational titles out there, Short feels like there are a lot of options. They not only save money, but make sometimes dull course material more interesting. He’s also started his own graphic novel business, writing his own and collaborating with other faculty members to create titles retailing for about $20. Short is just one of a growing number looking outside of the box when it comes to assigning low-cost, equally viable reading material.
Textbooks these days aren’t just for reading. While many traditional textbooks come with software, digital texts are taking it to the next level, allowing students to highlight, take notes and even study with their peers. Digital publisher Inkling announced a social aspect to their books this year, allowing students to rate and review books and share their notes and information with others in the class. This is in addition to existing content offering students built-in tests, videos and 3D images.