:Chattanooga; :Dec 26, 2009; :Metro/Region; :9

Colleges weighing shift to e-textbooks

By Joan Garrett jgarrett@timesfreepress.com

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    College campuses may have fewer students carrying book-burdened backpacks in years to come.

    Although electronic textbooks are in their infancy — only 1 percent of the $5 billion textbook industry — many campuses are curious about the burgeoning technology.

    During board meetings on efficiency and effectiveness, UT officials and trustees have talked about using electronic texts, typically offered at a lower price than printed books.

    “The University of Tennessee is interested in the concept of electronic textbooks and is discussing ways to possibly make their use more widespread,” said Elizabeth Davis, a spokeswoman for the UT system.

    Currently, use of Internet texts throughout the UT system is sporadic, she said.

    University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown said he foresees that any move toward electronic texts will be slow, although the school has a bookstore on campus and sells textbooks online. Individual faculty members, however, are putting more
materials online to help lower class material costs, he said.

    “There has not been a large move for electronic textbooks at UTC,” he said.

    But some students say electronic texts are good for users and the university while everyone is looking to cut costs and waste.

    “Being able to put it up on your laptop and not having to carry a large book around makes it easier,” said Bradley Bell, a sophomore majoring in marketing and finance at UTC. “It’s a little bit more cost-friendly for college students since tuition costs continue to increase. I think it would be a good thing to go to since UTC is trying to go green.”

    Of the 5,000 college bookstores nationwide, only a handful fully have embraced electronic texts, but universities and students are moving in that direction, said Richard McDaniel, president of the Collegiate Retail Alliance, a national coalition of independent college bookstores.

    “The trend is very clear. It is going digital,” he said. “The huge mistake again and again is predicting how fast it is happening. It’s not all going to be digital in five years.”

    Even though electronic textbooks are 50 percent cheaper than paper texts, Mr. McDaniel said, they won’t take off until the process to obtain them becomes easier. In most cases, students must download an electronic textbook and read it on their laptop.

    Electronic readers such as Kindle may make reading and using digital texts easier in the future, especially if they become more user friendly and cheaper, he said.

    “The technology has to be improved,” Mr. McDaniel said. “It is not going to take over the market in its current form. A lot of students don’t want to download a 900-page textbook and read it online. They want paper.”