Allison Benner
University Bookstore student employee Allison Benner displays the new digital textbooks.

Textbooks go digital in pilot program

Instead of lugging heavy textbooks around in their backpacks, some BGSU students may simply log on to their computers to do their reading assignments this fall. The University Bookstore has been chosen as one of 10 bookstores nationally to provide downloadable digital textbooks to college students.

The cost-saving alternative was created by MBS Textbook Exchange in partnership with a group of major textbook publishers and was first launched by Princeton University and several other universities earlier this month.

The Universal Digital Textbook program offers students the opportunity to save up to one-third of the new book price and the convenience of downloading textbooks in an electronic format. For instance, a new book would sell for $100; that same book used would sell for $75, and the digital textbook version would sell for approximately $66.

The 73 individual sections of 20 BGSU courses that have a digital textbook option fall semester range from philosophy to business to math. University Bookstore staff have been preparing informational and promotional materials for the return of students, said Jeff Nelson, bookstore director.

The new program adds another option for students purchasing textbooks, according to Nelson. “While students had only two choices before—new and used print—they now have three with the digital version. BGSU is very interested in investigating any option that could reduce the high cost of course materials for students beyond the traditional printed book and the option of used books and book buyback. Depending upon the student, their comfort level with or access to technology, this option could be appealing.”

The textbooks are available to students as cards, similar to electronic gift cards and phone service cards, according to MBS Textbook Exchange, the program’s organizer. Students who choose to purchase a Universal Digital Textbook will present the card to the cashier, who activates it by swiping it at the register. The student can then download the textbook on his or her home or laptop computer.

The Adobe Reader software used to access the individual books includes many built-in interactive features, including document searching and printing, highlighting, underlining, note-taking and read-aloud capability, and is available as a free download.

The books are formatted and copy-protected using Adobe technology. To prevent piracy, the downloads have an expiration date so that the books may not be sold or transferred to other students.

Universal Digital Textbooks is offering approximately 30 titles this semester, with hopes of adding more in the future. In addition to BGSU and Princeton, the digital textbooks are available this fall at the universities of Oregon and Utah, Morehead State University, California State University at Fullerton, Portland Community College and Georgetown College, and at privately owned stores serving West Virginia State and Louisiana State universities.

Since the digital textbooks are completely new to the collegiate marketplace, Nelson said, the next steps involve listening to the students’ feedback and, based upon what is heard during the pilot program, making improvements for future semesters.

“I am pleased that BGSU can be one of the voices during this pilot, to help give direction to the future of the electronic textbook,” Nelson said.

But, he added, “the digital textbook is a supplement to, not a replacement for, a traditional print textbook. New and used print versions of textbooks are in no danger of being removed from bookstore shelves. Digital textbooks exist as an alternative for students looking for an electronic, interactive learning experience that can also be portable when used with a laptop computer.”

August 22, 2005