An article on Ars Technica, features the future of college textbooks. A pilot program at the University of Texas at Austin will begin a 1,000 student trial in the 2009-2010 school year. Students participating in this trial will receive their textbooks for free via a direct to hard drive download. Most college students can tell you what a wonderful thing these e-textbooks would be. They are worth their in both weight and money. A brash realization that seems to be a key talking point among students is that traditional textbooks cost far too much. Personally, the most expensive book I’ve ever had to buy was $175. The Ars article reports that the textbooks will sell for between $25 and $40- a substantial price difference. A savings of up to 75% from traditional textbooks could mean that I would have saved around $250 last semester if Penn State implemented such a program.
What most people don’t realize is that presenting copyrighted information digitally generally required Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection. The DRM for the University of Texas pilot program is not mentioned, but printing and time restrictions seem likely. The DRM issue is something that needs to be ironed out before e-textbooks become mainstream, but I’m confident it can be worked out. I’m also confident that student innovators will be able to break these restrictions and freely distribute the e-textbooks (but that’s a whole other story).
In the past, we’ve heard about e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle and various Sony products. It is likely that these e-book readers will become the medium for which these e-textbooks gain exponential success. Why lug around a whole stack of books when you can carry around a device that is light, flexible and digital. The Generation Y population is likely to run with this idea- we’re responsible for the popularity of social media, the iPod and countless other innovations. If you think about it, the mp3 and the iPod have basically killed CD and other physical media. It is merely a matter of time before the e-book meets the e-textbook and expensive textbook costs are the relic of our past.