Why Aren’t Students Using E-Books?

| November 7, 2011 | 53 Comments
  • Email Post

Kathryn

Though we keep hearing about a huge increase in sales of e-books, a recent survey shows that, for students, that needle has not really moved much.

The library e-book provider eBrary released some of the preliminary results from its 2011 Global Student E-Book Survey last week. Among its findings: that students’ e-book usage has not increased significantly in the past 3 years.

That’s contrary to other reports about consumers using e-books. Back in May, Amazon said that it was selling more e-books than print, ad the Association of American Publishers says that for the first half of the year, e-book sales are up 160% while hardcover and paperback sales were both down nearly 20%.

So why are students’ buying habits different? Why aren’t they buying more e-books?

“The vast majority of students would choose electronic over print if it were available and if better tools along with fewer restrictions were offered.”

Part of the answer lies in the fact that the books they need — textbooks at least — are not always available in digital format. Even if some titles are available, many students opt to buy all their books at the same time from the same location (whether that retailer is online or a traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore or a textbook rental company). As different e-readers and e-reader apps have access to different catalogs, there isn’t really a seamless shopping experience for digital textbooks.

It’s not as though students aren’t interested in e-books. According to the eBrary survey, “the vast majority of students would choose electronic over print if it were available and if better tools along with fewer restrictions were offered.” Those latter points are key: better tools and fewer restrictions. Despite some of the improvements to note-taking in textbook apps like Inkling and Kno, it’s still not quite as easy to mark up a digital text as it is a printed one. And oftentimes the content in these books is “locked down,” so students can’t share their notes or share their books with another.

That sharing aspect is important. Students want to be able to utilize social media as they do their reading and research, and according to those surveyed by eBrary, they want their textbooks integrated with social tools. Again, many apps are recognizing the importance of social reading, whether it’s shared highlighting via the Kindle or a dedicated e-reader or via a Web-based tool like Highlighter.

But students also share their textbooks because they are so incredibly expensive. And as the digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on e-books makes lending someone your copy difficult if not impossible, students are likely steering away from e-books because they simply don’t work for them — practically or economically. After all, there is little savings to be found in many digital textbooks. They cost roughly the same as print, but come without the ability to sell back a used copy at the end of the semester.

The slow adoption of digital textbooks by students doesn’t necessarily mean that textbooks will be the last bastion of print. But it does highlight the ways in which students’ needs aren’t being met yet by digital content providers. That means there’s still a huge opportunity here to reshape what the textbooks of the future look like. Openly licensed content, for example, could address students’ concerns about sharing. Better social tools could help meet their needs for social reading and learning. Open educational resources could provide free content, while an iTunes model of sorts — one that sold the “song” (or rather the chapter) rather than the “album” (the whole book) could save students money.

Students’ reluctance to move to digital textbooks should also be an indication that we have to make sure we’re building learning tools that meet the needs of learners. Despite all the promises about lighter backpacks, students’ purchasing habits here indicate that they’re making decisions about what works best for how they study.

Related

Explore: ,

  • Email Post
  • http://twitter.com/bridgetmck bridgetmck

    These are all really strong points. I agree that the DRM restrictions can be offputting. But there is one key practical barrier in many schools: Students, especially younger ones, feel (or are told) they can’t take a device into the classroom so they assume (or teachers assume) that books in class have to be of the paper variety. 

  • Wildnfreak1

    Money, money and still money ! In many schools, who’s going to steal a paper book vs a reader or a tablet ? You also can forget 1 book somewhere, bad but save your wallet instead of forgetting your reader or tablet with ALL your books in it. When the products will suits the needs of students, everyone will get it and use it.

  • Jason Seitz

    Textbook produced bi Inkling ARE social, students can make comments and notes inside the textbook that are shared with other students in real-time. Students can follow their professors as they annotate the textbook as well!

    • Jordi Guim

      I think one of the biggest problems in the use of e-books is in the low use of these teachers do the same.
      Personally give them to any teacher who would use them in class!

      Creo que uno de los mayores problemas  en el uso de los e-books está en el escaso uso de los mismos que hacen los profesores de los mismos.
      Personalmente los regalaría a todo profesor que los usara en sus clases!

    • Jordi Guim

      I think one of the biggest problems in the use of e-books is in the low use of these teachers do the same.
      Personally give them to any teacher who would use them in class!

      Creo que uno de los mayores problemas  en el uso de los e-books está en el escaso uso de los mismos que hacen los profesores de los mismos.
      Personalmente los regalaría a todo profesor que los usara en sus clases!

  • Jason Seitz

    Textbook produced bi Inkling ARE social, students can make comments and notes inside the textbook that are shared with other students in real-time. Students can follow their professors as they annotate the textbook as well!

  • http://twitter.com/RoarNygard Roar Nygård

    We should use the benefits of e-books in contrast of p-books. Integration with sosial medias, common note-taking and highlighting, easy buying / lending / re-selling etc.

  • Anonymous

    There is a distinct difference between students reading “eBooks” and instructional materials like textbooks. In the K-12 market there are not a lot of “textbooks” that are digital. Second, budgets have been severely cut to schools across the country so purchases of eBooks for school libraries are fairly low. There are forums and mechanisms where students can share their insights in a web 2.0 manner, we just need to be open to using them. But the biggest drawback that I see with the use of digital media comes from our teachers. To many, reading isn’t reading unless it is in print. Many teachers (and administrators) cast aspersions on digital reading because they don’t know how to integrate it in their classrooms. Reading digital content is different than reading print content and we need to do a better job of teaching both teachers and students how to do it. In our district our students have read 39,000 eBooks in the first two months of school for a total of 294 days worth of time on this task!  We need to listen to our students and rise to meet their needs digitally!

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      You have highlighting one of the barriers to the transition to not only classroom-based e-learning, but Cloud-based learning opportunities that stretch the imagination in ways never before possible, but for the opportunity that technology presents.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      You have highlighting one of the barriers to the transition to not only classroom-based e-learning, but Cloud-based learning opportunities that stretch the imagination in ways never before possible, but for the opportunity that technology presents.

  • http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org Scott McLeod

    Until tablet devices become more ubiquitous, some of it is also form factor: http://goo.gl/w9v0a

  • http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org Scott McLeod

    Until tablet devices become more ubiquitous, some of it is also form factor: http://goo.gl/w9v0a

  • Anonymous

    School districts in the K-12 space can use and developing their own Free ebooks by using Open Educational Resources (OER) like:
     CK12.org  http://www.ck12.org/flexbook/Gutenberg  http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/scores/topThese are high quality resources written at a higher standard than many commercial editions.  The key to the effective use of these OER resources is student access.  1-2-1 classrooms funded by Title l and other grant resources provides low income school districts with the infrastructure needed to provide Universal student access.Ebooks are inevitable  as education faces the need to make all budget dollars go further.With CK12 districts can use existing ebooks and develop their own.

  • Julia Hengstler

    One of the other issues is that instructors at post K-12 and teachers K-12 are slow to transition to digital texts. It’s just like what we’ve seen with social media use–one of the first changes that I’ve seen in Education driven by the students themselves, to teachers and then on to administration, etc. Usually innovations aren’t as grassroots as this in education. Why did it happen? Students were using it, and driving educators to see the potential advantages of using the platforms and co-opting the skill sets. The same will happen with digital texts–I predict.

    But digital texts must begin to leverage more of their native skills/features/opportunities and move away from what print does. Texts via apps like the Exploratorium’s “Color Uncovered” are the way to go. Digital text needs to apply itself more to mobile friendly platforms–and right now, that’s looking like either web based mobile sites, iOS or android platforms.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      You are so right! (I think).
      Now, combine that with a Syllabus for each and every subject, to a depth that satisfies every educational thirst, with audio, visual and “gestalt’ learning in the Internet Cloud,. and we’re getting there.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      You are so right! (I think).
      Now, combine that with a Syllabus for each and every subject, to a depth that satisfies every educational thirst, with audio, visual and “gestalt’ learning in the Internet Cloud,. and we’re getting there.

  • http://twitter.com/TextbookStop Daniel Andrew

    Definitely an interesting article. It seems like the option to rent textbooks is just barely taken off after several years of it being available, so I bet it will take a few more years before e-textbooks catch on.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      Hopefully, pressure from forward-thinking educators and academics will work to get the textbook industry moving in the “right” direction. Digitally-assisted learning opportunities will rule the education “marketplace” soon!
      And, when the evolution happens, everybody will look around, shake their heads and wonder, “Of, course! Why didn’t we see this sooner. What an opportunity for children!”

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      Hopefully, pressure from forward-thinking educators and academics will work to get the textbook industry moving in the “right” direction. Digitally-assisted learning opportunities will rule the education “marketplace” soon!
      And, when the evolution happens, everybody will look around, shake their heads and wonder, “Of, course! Why didn’t we see this sooner. What an opportunity for children!”

  • Rob

    I’d be interested to know if they’re even accessing electronic non-fiction (that aren’t school text books) and fiction works.  At my library, the kids really can’t be bothered, even if we didn’t have the title and I found them an electronic version on Gutenberg (classic lit study – two kids in question said they’d go to the library / get mum to buy them a copy).  Informal chats seemed to suggest that they still like the tactile papery thing!  … and I’m not going to force the technology on them if they’re not interested.

  • Rob

    I’d be interested to know if they’re even accessing electronic non-fiction (that aren’t school text books) and fiction works.  At my library, the kids really can’t be bothered, even if we didn’t have the title and I found them an electronic version on Gutenberg (classic lit study – two kids in question said they’d go to the library / get mum to buy them a copy).  Informal chats seemed to suggest that they still like the tactile papery thing!  … and I’m not going to force the technology on them if they’re not interested.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      As an Educator don’t you want the best possible tools and resources to help your “learners?” Don’t you want the opportunity to engage with students who are confident enough in what they’ve learned to talk about it? Challenge accepted thinking?
      Believe it or not learning behavior is still a “survival” characteristic; an instinctive awareness that curiousity is a “good thing.”
         Students are pack animals as much as adults, and given a responsible, considerate and nurturing attitude from “teachers” (mentors/Socratesian-learning advocates?) most will want to know more, quicker, get much more from the visual, combined with the printed and audible presentation of the world of knowledge.
      Finally, lest we all forget, it is the job of educators to teach students beyond the discrete “fact” base to the application of knowledge to problem-solving, to information organization and presentation.
      Modern technology can make teaching rewarding once again, absent the Luddite attitudes of some (not you Rob!).

    • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

      As an Educator don’t you want the best possible tools and resources to help your “learners?” Don’t you want the opportunity to engage with students who are confident enough in what they’ve learned to talk about it? Challenge accepted thinking?
      Believe it or not learning behavior is still a “survival” characteristic; an instinctive awareness that curiousity is a “good thing.”
         Students are pack animals as much as adults, and given a responsible, considerate and nurturing attitude from “teachers” (mentors/Socratesian-learning advocates?) most will want to know more, quicker, get much more from the visual, combined with the printed and audible presentation of the world of knowledge.
      Finally, lest we all forget, it is the job of educators to teach students beyond the discrete “fact” base to the application of knowledge to problem-solving, to information organization and presentation.
      Modern technology can make teaching rewarding once again, absent the Luddite attitudes of some (not you Rob!).

  • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

    The basic problem here is the monopolistic market control of major textbook publishers, and their reluctance (Desperation? Wails of distress?) to reecognize the revolution in publishing that I-Pad and the rest of Tablets and E-Readers offer.  Imagine! One highly functional I-Pad/E-Reader with full Internet access to Cloud -stored and offered fully up-to-date e-syllabii with all the in-depth materials, visual and “printed” any student could want.
     It IS the future…now (or very shortly).
       The Education “universe” is headed for a revolution, not evolution. Imagine an immeasureably full-compared to today-Online Syllabus for any and all subjects, with material depth and access impossible with a simple textbook.
    Wikipedia University on steroids, developed, written  and edited by the best academics available, and more widely available that any time in the past. Imagine an Online Seminar or lecture by Nobel Laureates to 2 million students at a time, instead of 25-200 in a modern university lecture hall. It’s all coming, all possible, eminently necessary.
    See   http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2550419/they_can_all_be_geniuses.html?cat=8

  • http://profiles.google.com/mediamanbwd Barry Dennis

    The basic problem here is the monopolistic market control of major textbook publishers, and their reluctance (Desperation? Wails of distress?) to reecognize the revolution in publishing that I-Pad and the rest of Tablets and E-Readers offer.  Imagine! One highly functional I-Pad/E-Reader with full Internet access to Cloud -stored and offered fully up-to-date e-syllabii with all the in-depth materials, visual and “printed” any student could want.
     It IS the future…now (or very shortly).
       The Education “universe” is headed for a revolution, not evolution. Imagine an immeasureably full-compared to today-Online Syllabus for any and all subjects, with material depth and access impossible with a simple textbook.
    Wikipedia University on steroids, developed, written  and edited by the best academics available, and more widely available that any time in the past. Imagine an Online Seminar or lecture by Nobel Laureates to 2 million students at a time, instead of 25-200 in a modern university lecture hall. It’s all coming, all possible, eminently necessary.
    See   http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2550419/they_can_all_be_geniuses.html?cat=8

  • http://twitter.com/Lilybiri Lieve Weymeis

    As a teacher and digital immigrant wanted to add my opinion, something that is not appearing in this article and only based on my European experience. There seems to be a great difference in the way students are adopting digital resources for leisure and for study. In college they are mostly very “traditionalist”, preferring old type of learning assets like real textbooks over e-books and other resources (social media), F2F classes over self-study using e-learning assets, etc. This is partly due to the lack of adoption by teachers, agree, but not only. Their attitude versus their ‘learning’ life and the rest of their life is simply not the same. That is why I do not agree with the last paragraph ‘… learning tools that meet the needs of learners’, when talking about the average college student. Is he aware of the different and extended possibilities of recent learning tools over the traditional ones? 

  • http://twitter.com/Lilybiri Lieve Weymeis

    As a teacher and digital immigrant wanted to add my opinion, something that is not appearing in this article and only based on my European experience. There seems to be a great difference in the way students are adopting digital resources for leisure and for study. In college they are mostly very “traditionalist”, preferring old type of learning assets like real textbooks over e-books and other resources (social media), F2F classes over self-study using e-learning assets, etc. This is partly due to the lack of adoption by teachers, agree, but not only. Their attitude versus their ‘learning’ life and the rest of their life is simply not the same. That is why I do not agree with the last paragraph ‘… learning tools that meet the needs of learners’, when talking about the average college student. Is he aware of the different and extended possibilities of recent learning tools over the traditional ones? 

  • Gerry Shaw

    Students are a bit slow to adopt – and for the reasons cited here. I have found an option that answers some of the points here. Flat World Knowledge provides textbooks in a digital format for free. Students have the option to purchase the textbook in hard copy (B/W or color) or in any other digital format. Their research shows a little more than half prefer the hard copy. But, here on my campus, the majority are using the free online version and adapting to this format. It takes time but is proving very worthwhile.

  • Gerry Shaw

    Students are a bit slow to adopt – and for the reasons cited here. I have found an option that answers some of the points here. Flat World Knowledge provides textbooks in a digital format for free. Students have the option to purchase the textbook in hard copy (B/W or color) or in any other digital format. Their research shows a little more than half prefer the hard copy. But, here on my campus, the majority are using the free online version and adapting to this format. It takes time but is proving very worthwhile.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

    Part of the problem is that free open source textbooks are available but not even evaluated. The entire state of Indiana (whose K-12 rental fees are paid directly by parents) does not evaluate these sorts of books. The process doesn’t permit it.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

    Part of the problem is that free open source textbooks are available but not even evaluated. The entire state of Indiana (whose K-12 rental fees are paid directly by parents) does not evaluate these sorts of books. The process doesn’t permit it.

    • Julia Hengstler

      You should check out what California did http://www.clrn.org/search/ They also posted their review process & criteria for selecting open source/open content materials

    • Julia Hengstler

      You should check out what California did http://www.clrn.org/search/ They also posted their review process & criteria for selecting open source/open content materials

  • Desiree Devereaux

    Often, students also want to purchase and KEEP their textbooks, especially those related to their majors. However, the publishers usually just sell them “access” for a semester or two.

  • af2000usa

    The legacy print media companies, like the music industry and the movie industry before them, fight the collapse of their familiar business model, even though the technology is driving it into extinction. I have a title in print with Focal Press (Elsevier), Writing for Visual Media, which first appeared with an innovative interactive CD 10 years ago, now a website. I have been arguing for a decade that my book needed to be an integrated interactive experience that involved audio and visual media should be published on line. The response was always nervous, apprehensive rejection probably because the print model is still quite profitable.  

    Digital rights management is the key to this e-future. Flexible ways of buying rights will be important. Unlike entertainment media, textbooks cannot really use pre-roll advertising or contextual advertising around free content. However, other commentators have pointed out the resistance of students. I adopted a textbook which offered a digital version significantly cheaper than the hard copy and offered that option to the class. A large majority chose the traditional print book despite the $50 saving. Go figure.

  • af2000usa

    The legacy print media companies, like the music industry and the movie industry before them, fight the collapse of their familiar business model, even though the technology is driving it into extinction. I have a title in print with Focal Press (Elsevier), Writing for Visual Media, which first appeared with an innovative interactive CD 10 years ago, now a website. I have been arguing for a decade that my book needed to be an integrated interactive experience that involved audio and visual media should be published on line. The response was always nervous, apprehensive rejection probably because the print model is still quite profitable.  

    Digital rights management is the key to this e-future. Flexible ways of buying rights will be important. Unlike entertainment media, textbooks cannot really use pre-roll advertising or contextual advertising around free content. However, other commentators have pointed out the resistance of students. I adopted a textbook which offered a digital version significantly cheaper than the hard copy and offered that option to the class. A large majority chose the traditional print book despite the $50 saving. Go figure.

  • Anonymous

    Abolutley, classrooms should start implementing this type of thing, as it would be agood way for youngsters and adults to be-able to learn on a digital level. In other words, isn’t this world becomming more and more high tech? So, why shouldn’t pupils and instructors have access to any page of a book that is digitized and right at their fingertips? Cost, availability and of course, personal preference. If a student wants to bring a tablet to class to take notes and study important terms through online portals and what not, they should be-able to. In addition, students need not only have the ability to download their new digital-form of a subject textbook or whatever, but they can also use these forms of applications as a tool. With e-book technology, someone could create a school project in the form of an e-book and present it to their classmates by sending the pages to them automatically. It could be the next wave in teacher/student/project relationship and could really grow into something positive.

  • Anonymous

    Abolutley, classrooms should start implementing this type of thing, as it would be agood way for youngsters and adults to be-able to learn on a digital level. In other words, isn’t this world becomming more and more high tech? So, why shouldn’t pupils and instructors have access to any page of a book that is digitized and right at their fingertips? Cost, availability and of course, personal preference. If a student wants to bring a tablet to class to take notes and study important terms through online portals and what not, they should be-able to. In addition, students need not only have the ability to download their new digital-form of a subject textbook or whatever, but they can also use these forms of applications as a tool. With e-book technology, someone could create a school project in the form of an e-book and present it to their classmates by sending the pages to them automatically. It could be the next wave in teacher/student/project relationship and could really grow into something positive.

  • Chris_Kuczynski

    We are still trying to sort out the use of Kindles just for English lit content. The management of content through Amazon is absolutely byzantine. We only find out what can and cannot do through trial and error. We cannot by the same book twice on one account, which means we have to break up the entire school into different accounts with groups of 6 ( as that is the license limit) kindles each. Each account must have a different email. Why doesn’t Amazon address institutional users?

  • Chris_Kuczynski

    We are still trying to sort out the use of Kindles just for English lit content. The management of content through Amazon is absolutely byzantine. We only find out what can and cannot do through trial and error. We cannot by the same book twice on one account, which means we have to break up the entire school into different accounts with groups of 6 ( as that is the license limit) kindles each. Each account must have a different email. Why doesn’t Amazon address institutional users?

  • Mark

    Until recently, the color and graphics capabilities of eReaders was very limited. Since most students are used to rich visuals, they may be not using the eBooks due to the lack of support for those.

  • Mark

    Until recently, the color and graphics capabilities of eReaders was very limited. Since most students are used to rich visuals, they may be not using the eBooks due to the lack of support for those.

  • Mattewens1977

    I would disagree, I think there are good examples of e-books being used in college libraries in the UK.  Here is a case study I wrote, which highlights their use: http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/page.aspx?o=319414

    I would also question the ‘global’ research, where are the statistics by country and the results of the survey to back up the ‘global’ arguement?

  • Steven James Beto

    Why aren’t they buying more e-books? At the University of Minnesota during Spring Semester, 2011, I knew of 2 professors who admonished students for using iPads in class. If their use was first encouraged and perhaps incorporated creatively in the class, I am sure that tablet usage would sky-rocket. 
    An interesting thing happened in one class; the professor specifically forbade the use of tablets in class, but the students continued to use them anyway. The professor finally gave up, but not without addressing one of the users as, “Miss iPad.”

  • Mike

    My junior high daughter has access to text books online.  Happy she isn’t carrying the books home, but they do not reflect or feel like books.  Constant moving between menus makes them inefficient and ugly to work with.  We wish they looked like the books on the Nook, Kindle or iPad.  Also, my high school child is given a book for my each of her divorced parent’s homes.  Nice to keep the weight of her back pack down, but digital would allow so much more!  I like the video Apple shows of where they think this is going.  I see Pearson in the video, but that is not what they offer my child.  Wish they did. . . It looks like we are still in the days of CRT’s.

  • Cspanza

    Publishers are stealing money from authors and students alike by trying to keep alive their unsustainable technology of mashing up trees and staining them with chemicals.

    In addition they restrict the authors ability to present data and limit the ways students can access the information.

    Textbooks are not searchable, cannot be backed up, do not contain links to supplemental information or even within its own text.   The diagrams are not zoomable and the fonts are not re-sizeable.   The authors cannot push out corrections or updates thus mistakes are perpetuated for years. 
    Students don’t want e-books?!?   That is beyond daft, it is malicious propaganda!

  • Tamikraft

    I used an ebook for my last graduate class. I was able to read and study with it, but I could not go to the page the teacher said when discussing in class. It was embarrassing to share a book during class discussion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24606699 Carissa Peck

    I encourage my stduents, and other teachers, to use online literature whenever possible. However there is something to be said about highlighting, dog earing pages, etc. For someone who gre up on paper it is often easier to read and study from paper.

    I am however making active attempts to change. I even compiled a list of my favorite free online reading materials http://eslcarissa.blogspot.com/2012/05/reading.html

  • http://bestsmartphone2011.org/infamous-smartphone-deals/ Infamous smartphone deals

    As I
    understand correctly you can even make some money creating e-books.
     

  • anonhive

    I would only use a hardcover/paperback myself. E-books is just annoying to read. Might just be me, but a book feels a lot more compelling.

  • gabi

    I have been using ebooks for the past year at my University and I absolutely LOVE IT !! the options of me scanning through the book in just a click and the option of my reader that I have where my ipad or computer can read my book to me when I am tired or feeding my baby its just an extra ++ to me. I Love to listen to my book as I do to my radio when I need to do other things and still be able to move forward with school work. I always spend so much $$ on hardcover book and I was not able to sale in the next semester because the professors used the new versions now !! that was money down the toilet to me, now instead of paying $145.00 per book I rent one on e-book by Kno for as low as $25.00 for 2 or 3 months !! Love it & Love the savings !!!

  • bigdaddyrcs2001

    Save more tree!!!!

  • jack

    I prefer to use ebooks and here are the reasons why i think student should use ebooks

    http://universitytwig.com/article/detail/Why_students_should_use_ebooks_