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NYU Tries Digital Textbooks

In an effort to give students a greater choice in textbook ordering, New York University's four bookstores have been experimenting with the sale of digital textbooks this school year. NYU Bookstores began using CafeScribe's digital book service at the beginning of the school year and expects to begin selling digital books through Jumpbooks next fall. Although digital books are heralded as a way to reduce the cost of textbooks, a simple search suggests that digital volumes may not be the cheapest option for buyers.

At NYU when students register for courses, the bookstores e-mail them links to the required texts where they can download the books on the CafeScribe eBook platform to simplify the ordering of digital versions. With CafeScribe, no special reader is required to access the digital book, and most titles can be downloaded to up to three computers or devices.

"We expect digital textbook use to grow as fast as the title inventories can," said Phil Christopher, director of the bookstores. "The technology is in place, the books are highly interactive, and students own powerful portable devices. Moreover, traditional textbook costs are rising, and students are quite comfortable with searching, shopping, and learning online. Our students are excited to have the option of purchasing CafeScribe digital textbooks."

However, students may still spend less for textbooks by checking pricing with multiple sources--when they have sufficient time to do so. For example, NYU Associate Professor Robert Grimm is teaching a course titled "Programming Languages" this semester that requires the use of the textbook, Programming Language Pragmatics, 3rd edition, by Michael L. Scott. The book retails for $74.95 on the CafeScribe site; it can be purchased in hard copy from Amazon for just under $46.

An editorial published in NYU's student newspaper applauded the bookstores' effort to provide alternatives such as digital textbooks. But as it noted, making sure students are informed of required texts and costs at the time they register for classes will be even more valuable, since that will give them "ample time to find cheaper books."

Digital textbooks offer advantages over hard copy texts in several ways, according to CafeScribe. They're always available even when a traditional textbook isn't. Ebook technology such as that offered by CafeScribe allows the student to read, search, highlight, bookmark, and annotate the pages. CafeScribe also provides an academically based social networking platform that allows faculty and students to create study groups, share notes, and discuss topics with peers in their courses and elsewhere.

Electronic textbook sales as a whole are on the rise. They represent less than five percent of college-store textbook sales but could reach 10 percent to 15 percent by 2012, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS).

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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