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 Tuesday, September 23 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


E-textbooks catching on at CU-Boulder
by Corey H. Jones, senior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

As technology transforms the way we send and receive information, the CU Book Store on campus continues to adapt to an evolving textbook industry.

“We’re always looking for ways to offer students some type of lower-cost alternative,” said textbook buyer Jason Katzman.

The bookstore started carrying a limited number of electronic textbooks, or e-textbooks, in fall 2006. The store even participated in a pilot program that included only a handful of other universities across the nation looking to head the digital movement.

Initially, CU’s e-textbook sales hardly exceeded single digits. “We learned that students at that time weren’t all that interested in them,” Katzman said.

This year, the bookstore began working with new companies that offered more options with newer and more accommodating platforms. “How the e-books are presented to the students is very important and we are starting to see some evolution there,” Katzman said.

Yet as the fall 2008 semester neared, CU almost decided against offering the e-textbooks because it required integrating custom programming in to the bookstore’s point of sale system. In the end, the bookstore committed to making the necessary upgrades and completed them just in time for the student rush. The decision worked in the store’s favor, as it sold nearly 70 e-textbooks this fall, Katzman said.

“It was very fortuitous that everything came together at the right time,” he said. “We were pretty happy with the way it worked out for us.”

The bookstore currently offers e-textbooks in two competing formats, one based on a subscription model and the other based on an ownership model. Students who purchase the e-textbooks receive a password that they must enter into a website in order to download the book to their computers. Katzman hopes that students will offer him feedback as the store prepares to settle on one format.

And while Katzman expects each new incoming freshmen class to be increasingly comfortable with the idea that a book might be available in an electronic format, CU must address additional computer system concerns in order to significantly expand its e-textbook offerings, he said.

He pointed to San Diego State University's campus bookstore, which sits on the “cutting edge” of the e-textbook realm. “Their campus computer network is linked with the bookstore in a way that ours isn’t, which is a major project." Katzman said. He added that CU has not experienced the type of demand for e-textbooks that would make that pursuit practical.

“I don’t think e-textbooks will ever make up a huge portion of our sales,” Katzman said. “I think people are starting to realize that the printed book is actually a very convenient way to store information. I don’t see the printed book going away, but I do see them maybe coming up with different printing options.”

The bookstore is now considering another alternative that it might launch as early as next spring: unbound versions of textbooks that would be considerably cheaper. Like the e-textbooks, the bookstore would not buy back these versions at the end of the semester, but the option would offer students another opportunity to save more money up front.

“It’s all about students being able to make choices,” Katzman said.

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