‘Txt’ books: Digital downloads replacing hard copies



Last spring, in his “Entrepreneurship: Adventure Creation” course, Taylor Blair submitted a business plan into a competition along with a few of his classmates.

The business plan, which centered on buying textbooks online, would be deemed by a panel of instructors and entrepreneurs as the winning plan.

“We created this hybrid company that allows students to purchase books online and pick them up,” Blair, a secondary English education junion, said. “We presented an idea that would change a market that students are involved in and was more suitable to student needs.”

Blair’s victory in the competition is only a subtle hint at the explosive market that online textbooks have become.

Last July, Kindle rocked the industry with the announcement of “Kindle Textbook Rental,” a program that will provide tens of thousands of textbooks, available for immediate rental and direct download onto students’ eReaders.

Textbook rental, a relatively new concept in the industry, is catching the eyes (and wallets) of more and more students. Companies like Chegg, which pioneered the online business, is now fighting back competition. “It’s growing in popularity,” Chegg’s Vice President of Communications Tina Warner said.

“Kids are graduating in debt. Tuition is rising faster than inflation. This is one way for students to cut costs.”

Chegg is trying to do for the textbook industry what Netflix did for movie rentals; students go to their website, find and order the books they need, and rent them as long as they need to. Students return the books to the company when they are done, eliminating the middleman and in the process saving roughly 65 to 85 percent of the money they would spend buying textbooks.

And money isn’t the only thing being saved with online textbook rental.

Ashley Lance, a pre-veterinarian science major and customer service associate with eCampus.com, includes the advantage of expediency.

“It’s a convenience factor,” Lance said, “There’s no lines, no wait; you have no books to carry around, you just have your laptop.”

Even students who aren’t going online are beginning to rent from physical stores.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in rentals,” said Chad Saunders, the store operations manager for eCampus.com, calling the shifting market an “eBook revolution.”

Renting eBooks from Kindle also caters to environmentally-conscience students like health promotions senior Michael Neel, who will be buying this semester’s textbooks on his Kindle.

“I don’t like to carry books around,” Neel said, “and saving money is a plus. Plus, it uses less paper.”

Chegg’s online rental is also environmentally friendly.

Every time students rent a textbook, the company plants a tree, Warner said.

All trends point to the future of textbooks online, the question is how much time that will take. “Textbooks are going all online in three to four years,” Lance said. Other estimates are a little more conservative.

“Eighty percent of students still purchase books,” Warner said. “Electronic textbooks are just downloadable PDFs. Kids still like to highlight and such.”

Kindle, though, may have solved that problem.

“We’ve done a little something extra we think students will enjoy,” Kindle’s Vice President Dave Limp said in a news release. “We’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you get to keep and access all of your notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, available anytime, anywhere – even after a rental expires.”

The release went on to say if eBookers choose to rent again or buy at a later time his or her notes will be there just as they leave them, perfectly Whispersynced.

Blair created his business plan based on “student needs,” which almost always revolve around the need to save money. With textbook costs on the rise, students will be looking for other methods to acquire their class materials, and companies like Chegg and Kindle look to move everyone’s attention to the Internet. “Studies have shown that anything that can be created digitally will be,” Warner said.

Welcome to the eBook revolution.