USA Today says demand for digital textbooks surprisingly low

An article that appeared in USA Today this week about the disappointing sales of university textbooks in digital form shows how uphill the battle can be for supporters of e-textbooks like Tracy Hooten and Eric Mack (among others). The article recounts how a Brown University student bought a textbook in digital format so he could save $30. How did he like the ebook format?

But after making the purchase, he noticed a few things amiss: He couldn’t run a highlight marker over key points or jot notes in the margins, nor could he curl up with the tome without printing out the pages.

He won’t rule out another e-book, but he’s not completely sold, either.

What seems to be missing from his experience? The Tablet PC, of course. Digital textbooks cannot offer the proper experience for students without the ability to work with the material on the screen with a pen. The article fails to mention this particular fact and in failing to do so creates a very incorrect impression of the utility of ebooks. I alsog got the impression from the article that publishers might be offering these ebooks in a proprietary format which makes the use of third party tools impossible. How do they think the ebooks can be used without creating them in some industry standard format (like PDF)? Not to mention selling them to students without Tablet PCs? The saddest fact I took away from this article is that the bookstore at Brown University offers a sum total of three textbooks in digital form. No, I cannot imagine how their sales are not achieving bigger numbers. :)

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