On Digital Textbooks: Fun Facts, Projections, and Possibilities

The cost of textbooks has driven every college student crazy. They’re pricey, new editions flow from the textbook pipeline with great frequency, and schlepping a backpack full of them across campus every day is exhausting. Printing textbooks (or anything, for that matter) is expensive, so it makes lots of sense for digital textbooks to take big bites out of print textbook market share, especially with the emergence of powerful tablet computers that can store a small mountain of textbooks digitally. Let users simply download educational materials; and enhance the learning, researching, and note-taking experience for students. It doesn’t hurt that a tablet weighs a fraction of what a stack of printed books does either and there are all sorts of efficiencies in distribution here, obviously.

OnlineEducation.net, a site that seeks to provide a comprehensive resource for those trying to decide which and what type of college to attend and how those options stack up in their desired subject area, released an infographic about digital versus print textbooks. The infographic has plenty of interesting items, including projections for the digital textbook market in the coming years.

The chart predicts that digital textbooks will begin to more aggressively cannibalize print sales. In 2010, for example, digital textbooks held just 1% of the market; in 2011, that number grew to 2.5%, and by 2014, it should be 18.8%, which will cause print textbook sales to drop to 85% of its current level.

There was a 400% increase in digital textbook sales between 2008 and 2009, and by 2010, 42% of all students had purchased or seen one. The textbook industry had $7.5 billion in sales (which year was not specified), with $5.5 billion of that total coming from new books. How might digital textbooks impact those figures? If nothing else, they cost 53% less than print editions.

In terms of how users will get digital textbooks, it’s obvious: tablets. Perhaps schools will start distributing tablets to incoming students on day one (some are already trying this out), but regardless, an increasing number of students will be bringing a tablet to school.


The infographic looks into the near future a bit to imagine what would be very reasonably possible with digital textbooks on tablets, including apps to enhance note-taking, paper-writing, studying, reading, and gathering research in addition to built-in extras such as inline quizzes, animated content including interactive elements, games, and study group video chats. Digital textbooks probably won’t stop publishers from releasing new editions of textbooks every six months, and it’s possible that prices won’t drop either, as developing all those sweet extra features won’t be free. Still, in terms of environmental concerns, practicality, and increased features, digital textbooks make tons of sense.

Besides, it’s a great reason to convince your parents to buy you a tablet.

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