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Online resources remain unpopular among students

Less than 0.5 percent of bookstore’s textbook sales comes from e-book revenue

While Kindles and Nooks may be replacing printed pages and bound texts on bookshelves across the country, students at Brown have been slow to catch on to the e-book and e-textbook trend. 

“The transition is waiting,” said University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi.

Though both older and younger generations have embraced reading e-books on iPads and Kindles, for college students e-books are less popular, Hemmasi said.

“As younger students are reading more online, long form reading online will become more natural and e-books will be used more,” she added.

The University provides access to roughly 1 million e-books, said David Banush, associate University librarian for access services and collection management. While data is not available for overall library e-book usage, only 30,400 e-books out of a package of roughly 80,000 recent titles have been used one or more times since 2005, Banush wrote in an email to The Herald.

The Brown Bookstore sells $3 million dollars of textbooks per year, including rentals, but e-textbooks comprise less than 0.5 percent of business, said Steven Souza, the bookstore’s director.

“Students seem to have zero interest in (e-textbooks),” Souza said. “They’re used to studying them in a certain way.”

Students may buy e-textbooks from other sources, but Souza said he doesn’t know of any college bookstores with a significant e-textbook business.

The University estimates students will spend $1,404 on books for the current academic year, according to its website. A Jan. 28 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education made the case for e-textbooks and open textbooks as a more affordable option to traditional printed materials.

“Textbook rental makes e-textbooks less relevant because the only thing that was driving kids to buy e-textbooks was price,” Souza said.

For example, according to the bookstore’s website, the $225 biochemistry textbook will rent for $119, which Souza considers a reasonable price.

The frequent publication of new editions of popular textbooks drives overall prices up, because the bookstore continously has to buy the new version, Souza said.

The Alpert Medical School was an early adopter of e-textbooks. Beginning in 2011, all Med School students were required to purchase an iPad and use e-textbooks, The Herald reported at the time.

Caroline Malin-Mayor ’17 said she prefers print books to e-books. But for MATH 0540: “Honors Linear Algebra,” students use a free online textbook, which she appreciates because it does not cost anything to read, though she dislikes carrying her laptop.

“I’ve never thought about getting an e-textbook. It’s easier to go to the bookstore,” said Brandon Montell ’15. “I like flipping though a textbook.”

Though e-books may not be popular, Hemmasi said, faculty members and students widely use online resources such as scientific journals and databases.

“We spend 75 percent of the (content) budget on online materials because that is the only way that material is available,” she added.

Online subscriptions to scientific journals constitute a sizable portion of the $7 million spent on online content, Banush said. Universities typically pay on a per student basis, so Brown pays less than many of its peer institutions due to fewer graduate students, he added.

E-books are often bought in packages from the publisher and cost slightly more than print ones because of their licenses, which determine how many people can view the material at once, Banush said.

“We’ll continue to buy printed materials” because many students and faculty prefer them, he said.



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