Course Correction

How Digital Textbooks are Off Track and How to Set Them Straight

Textbooks are an essential but increasingly expensive part of obtaining a college degree. With students spending between $700 and $1,000 per yearand prices rising faster than inflation, the need for a solution is increasingly urgent.

Digital textbooks are a promising way to lower costs for students.  The digital format has the potential to cut production costs, increase options for students, and open up the market to more competition.

Digital textbooks are now beginning to gain a more prominent position in the textbooks marketplace, making it a critical time to ensure that they are on the right track.  We are concerned, however, that digital textbooks are on the wrong track.

The Student PIRGs conducted this study to determine how digital textbooks can live up to their potential as a solution.  Through a survey of 504 students from Oregon and Illinois and 50 commonly assigned textbook titles, we confirm three fundamental criteria – affordability, printing options, and accessibility.  We found that publishers’ digital “e-textbooks” fail to meet these criteria, and that an emerging form of digital textbooks – open textbooks – are a perfect match.

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MASSPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.