ITunes Textbooks Could Lower Costs for Students

College students are usually pretty preoccupied with money, and rightfully so: school is expensive. Textbooks are one area where a lot of students feel particularly cheated. A new move to offer students digital copies of single chapters from textbooks might be a step toward addressing the problem of costly assigned reading.

college costs books textbooks

An Expensive Problem

Have you ever purchased an expensive textbook, only to have your professor or instructor assign reading from a small part of it? This can be frustrating, especially because a lot of textbooks cost well upwards of $100. On top of tuition and living expenses, buying textbooks can be a real financial burden, even if you're in a relatively comfortable financial position.

The burdensome cost of textbooks was such a common student complaint that Congress addressed the issue head-on in 2008. As part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, lawmakers included a provision that made it mandatory for textbook publishers to disclose the price of the book along with any other marketing material presented to professors. Faculty is typically responsible for choosing which texts they will assign in class, and price was rarely included in the other materials given for their consideration. Though some professors likely took price into consideration, that information was not always readily available.

This and other changes made in 2008 helped address the issue of textbook cost, but at the end of the day, textbooks are relatively expensive to produce. They are long and detailed, often including color printing and expensive supplemental materials like CDs and workbooks. Good quality textbooks also require the input of trained professionals that must be paid. Though the necessity of listing price along with marketing information will likely increase competition for lower prices, it can't fix the problem entirely.

Single-Serving Digital Chapters

Fortunately, book publishers are seeking their own means of offering students cheaper access to textbook information. In a new development, publishers like McGraw-Hill are teaming up with private companies that will produce digitized versions of textbook chapters for students to purchase individually. That way, if your professor assigns a chapter or two from a 40-chapter book that costs $250, you will be able to purchase the chapters you need without having to shell out for the whole book.

digital chapters textbooks cost

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, there are two companies leading the charge for this new model of textbook distribution. One is Inkling, which will create textbook chapters for the iPad. The other is Cengage Learning, which will offer chapters in PDF form.

Not Quite Perfect

Of course, there are some flaws to the idea of digitized textbook chapters. To begin with, the iPad app model isn't likely to reach the financially struggling students who are most in need of access to individual chapters. The iPad is an expensive device, more of a luxury than a necessity for college students who are already likely to have their own computers. Additionally, you can't exactly refresh your book budget by reselling digital chapters the way you might with a physical book.

However, some students sell back their textbooks not out of economic necessity, but because they don't have room for them or don't want to pass up the opportunity to make back some of their money at the end of the semester. But many students keep their textbooks, particularly if it's from a class in their discipline or if the book contains information they think they'll use later. Perhaps the availability of digital chapters will encourage students to go back and refresh their memories well after the class is finished. The idea may not be perfect in its early stages, but the fact that there is a move to address the problem of expensive textbooks is encouraging.

Technological development may make it possible for textbooks to be a thing of the past altogether.

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