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Student Attitudes about Print and E-Textbooks

The recent research by the BISG, the Book Industry Study Group, about student preferences for e-textbooks has been widely reported. Here’s the original pres release:

College Students Want their Textbooks in the Old-Fashioned Way: In Print
Landmark research into preferences of college students reveals e-texts lagging far behind print, for now

“New York, NY (January 6, 2011) — Despite their fondness for social networking and cell phones, most college students say they prefer textbooks in printed rather than e-text form. Nearly 75% of students to recently respond to a major new research survey from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) said they prefer printed texts, citing a fondness for print’s look and feel, as well as its permanence and ability to be resold.

This finding was among many uncovered in BISG’s inaugural survey entitled Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education. The ongoing survey focuses on college student perceptions related to educational content and presentation media in the higher education market. It is powered by Bowker’s PubTrack data, the publishing industry’s exclusive resource for understanding buying behavior.

“Research studies like Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education enable informed decision-making,” said Scott Lubeck, BISG’s Executive Director. “College students are an exceptionally dynamic demographic, making the technology transformation underway within the higher ed market very hard to plot. Our ongoing survey of student attitudes will help everyone in the publishing business make sense of this changing market place by providing hard data on the impact of habits and preferences.”

Although not the preferred textbook form for most college students, further data from the survey shows that e-texts do have fans. About 12% of the students surveyed — mostly males, and often MBA-seeking or distance learners — said they prefer e-texts to printed texts because of their lower cost, convenience and portability. In addition, online supplemental materials received favor from these respondents as well. Particularly online quizzes that tests students’ understanding of a text’s content and prepares them for exams.

The majority of survey respondents (60%) said they place high value on core textbooks — whether printed or electronic — most of which continue to be purchased at the college bookstore (65%). Online purchasing is growing, however. For example, one-fifth of students said they purchased textbooks from Finally, perhaps because of rising purchase prices, renting a textbook — rather than purchasing or downloading — was preferred by 11% of surveyed students.

Additional findings include:
• Students love a bargain. Survey respondents said they often buy previous editions of a textbook (16% did this for their current class ) or international versions (18% did this at least once).
• Piracy is pervasive. More than 40% of survey respondents said they bought a textbook from a pirate website, or know others who have. In addition, many respondents reported copying their friends’ textbooks.
• Some learning tools have high value. Print study guides, Campus Learning Management Systems — such as Blackboard and WebCT — and diagnostic self-tests held high value for survey respondents.
• And some learning tools have low value. Online tutoring, audio study guides and “clickers” used in the classroom by instructors held low value for survey respondents.

Data from this benchmark survey will be presented at BISG�s February 9, 2011 event: What College Students Think: Making Information Pay for Higher Ed Publishing. Early bird registration for this inaugural publishing industry event has been extended until Friday, January 14, 2011. More information, and a link to registration, is available at

“As with every part of the publishing industry, the college textbook market is undergoing exponential change,” said Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Publishing Services at Bowker. “Trying to keep up with, let alone stay ahead of what students expect and need related to an enriched learning experience will continue to pay big dividends to those taking the time to understand this ever changing market.”

The findings from Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education come from a semi-annual online survey of college students, drawn from a nationally representative panel. To ensure the survey questions explored the appropriate trends and issues, they were developed in partnership with a variety of publishers and other companies working in the higher ed market place. In addition to the core question set, survey sponsors and other interested parties can submit proprietary questions to supplement the core fieldings. Those interested in submitting proprietary questions should contact Angela Bole in the BISG office at 646-336-7141 x13 or [email protected]

Survey findings are available for sale both as a PDF summary report and as a complete data compendium, accessible online. A substantial discount is available for BISG members. For more information, or to order a copy of Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, visit

Media Contact:
Angela Bole
Book Industry Study Group, Inc.
[email protected]

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About Book Industry Study Group, Inc.
The Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) is the U.S. book industry’s leading trade association for policy, standards and research. The mission of BISG is to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry supply chain for both physical and digital products. Membership consists of publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media. For over 30 years, BISG has provided a forum for all industry professionals to come together and efficiently address issues and concerns to advance the book community. Learn more about BISG at

About Bowker
Bowker is the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers and libraries better serve their customers. The company is focused on developing various tools and products that make books easier for people to discover, evaluate, order and experience, as well as providing services to publishers that help them better understand and meet the interests of readers worldwide. Bowker is a member of the ProQuest family of companies and is headquartered in New Providence, N.J., with additional operations in England and Australia. For more information, visit”
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Here is some of the reportage on the study:

Survey Finds 75% of College Students Stick to Print Textbooks

Amid E-Book Growth, Students Still Prefer Paper Textbooks

New Study Shows That 75% Students Surveyed Prefer Print Textbooks

My own opinion and surveys show a different picture. While this picture shows an opinion among students, that I have no doubt is true in 2010/11, it is measuring the wrong things and polarizing, yet again, the conversation about e-books and print. A few things that should be considered:

1. It is very difficult to survey people about the difference in the behaviours between a known condition (print textbooks) and an imaginary state (e-textbooks that the survey shows has only been a factor for small percentage of the survey population.) People find it extremely difficult to imagine a future state (imagine the commercial Internet in 1992, or the open web in 1990, or online music & vidoe downloads bfore the were available . . . etc.)
2. Students could easily consider a state for print that was quite diverse (used texts, rental texts, online orders, buying around through foreign stories, piracy, etc.) and therefore had a complete picture. Known states are more comfortable and have less risk, and we’ll find people prefer them to an unkown state.
3. Students did not seem to consider a hybrid model where print and e-texts aligned in parallel. Nor did they appear to consider lower prices for e-texts, renting e-texts or short term purchases of e-texts.
4. This study pre-dated the explosion of affordable tablets and e-readers in the consumer space.

It is my belief that the market at this time is in about three roughly equal divisions:

a. Those students and professors who prefer print only for their coursework.
b. Those students and professors who seek and want a hybrid model for textbook/coursepack/reserves support in their coursework.
c. Those students and professors who actively seek an all electronic support system (and this is often in certain disciplines (like management) or for distance education and e-learning based courses.)

I also believe that this is a continually evolving space where textbooks, in particular, are being reinvented to serve the needs not only of the student, but educators and administrators as well. The space between the textbook and the library research and support services is also fraying and integrating. It bears watching closely without reviewing the demands of the space too shallowly.


Posted on: January 16, 2011, 7:45 am Category: Uncategorized

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