The Yale Bookstore has launched its first serious e-textbook sale, general manager Joe King said. But only a small minority of students are using Kindles or iPads.
Nine students interviewed said they do not own an e-reader or read e-books on their computers, and students who use the devices are rare even in large lecture classes. The Yale Bookstore, which first started selling e-textbooks in 2003, currently offers about 150 titles through Barnes and Noble’s Nookstudy program, according to King. Typically, they are 25 to 40 percent cheaper than a new print version.
“Our interest has been big, hardcover textbooks like chemistry or accounting,” King said. “That’s where the money gets saved because they are so expensive.”
E-textbooks bought through the Yale Bookstore can be viewed on up to two computers, but they expire at the end of the semester. While he could not give exact sales figures, King said his bookstore has sold a significant number of e-textbooks.
Faisal Kawar ’14 uses his iPad to read books for his history classes. He downloaded about 30 course books because they are cheaper and easier to carry, he said.
But when it came to buying a physics textbook, Kawar said, he opted for print because he could write in it. Although it is possible to highlight and bookmark e-books, Kawar said it is harder to take notes.
Nevertheless, e-readers have their limitations. Stephen Hall ’14 said he could not find any of his textbooks in the iTunes Bookstore. As someone who uses his iPad for everything — from checking e-mails to watching YouTube — he said it was frustrating.
But he is waiting for a new iPad software update that will let users read PDF files, Hall said. Confident that more textbooks will become available in the iTunes Bookstore, he added that he plans to buy e-books in the future.
“Most of the comments from people is that they don’t want to look at the screen,” Hall said. “I don’t necessarily see a problem with it because screens will improve.”
Yalies’ apathy towards e-textbooks is not unlike national trends. According to a 2009 Campus Computing Project survey, e-books are used in only 3.5 percent of classes.
Kenneth Green, director of the Campus Computing Project, an Encino, Calif.-based organization that conducts surveys on technology on campus, said he blames the high price of e-textbooks which are only about the same price as used hard copies.
At the Yale Bookstore, an electronic copy of the “Introductory Microeconomics” textbook $88.05, a new copy costs $185.65, while a used print copy costs $139.25. But frugal students can get an used copy for $58.80 on Amazon.com, plus shipping and handling.
Recent Amazon Kindle test pilot programs at several universities, including Princeton, showed mixed results. Students liked using Kindles for pleasure reading but not for reading textbooks.
“All that is said about college student being digital natives, they all still grew up on print,” Green said.