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Rental and E-Book Sales Erode New Textbook Sales

A company that provides a virtual bookstore for colleges and universities reported that while digital textbook sales are growing, they still represent only a fraction of overall textbook sales. Also, customized course materials are growing in popularity. The proportion of used book sales is remaining steady, and new book sales are continuing their decline, as rental and e-book purchases encroach on their sales.

According to Akademos CEO John Squires, digital textbook purchases over the last three years have increased by 300 percent, even as "e-books still remain less than 5 percent of our overall textbook sales."

As an alternative to running a traditional on-campus bookstore, Akademos sets up an online storefront that allows students to choose new, used, marketplace, rental, and digital textbooks for their courses. The statistic represents buying trends of the company's partner schools as well as students via its direct-to-customer Web site, TextbookX.

Customized course materials, also known as "course packs," allow faculty members to select just the materials relevant to that course and combine them in a smaller form factor. Those sales are up 47 percent over fall 2011. The company provides several tools to instructors that make development of course packs simpler. For example, it has a textbook adoption tool that lets instructors compare textbooks; it also provides copyright clearances when someone wants to create a customized textbook.

Akademos noted that e-book sales tend to spike "deep" into the spring term. This suggested, the company said in a statement, that students are purchasing digital textbooks late--for example in time for finals; or, that summer term students are more likely to try out e-books.

The number of students using financial aid funds to buy their books remained unchanged at 35 percent.

"We believe increases in e-book purchases and custom course pack usage, as well as decreases in new book purchases, all point to an important trend--colleges and universities are increasingly forgoing textbook revenue in favor of passing those savings onto their students and improving key educational outcomes," said Ingrid Ramos Nakamura, vice president of marketing at Akademos. "While students do have some control over which books they buy and from where, our hope is that faculty, college CFOs, and other administrators will help increase buying options for their students, thereby decreasing course materials costs."

The company provides its services to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, PA and Wheelock College in Boston.

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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