Executives from across the education sector of book publishing gathered Wednesday, Feb. 9 at The Yale Club in New York City for Book Industry Study Group's (BISG) first "Making Information Pay for Higher Education" event. A range of speakers addressed challenges familiar to many publishers, including determining what consumers want in a print-digital integrated world and how to deliver it to them, as well as issues specific to the education sector, such as the ongoing debate over textbook pricing.
After a welcome from BISG Executive Director Scott Lubeck, Steve Paxhia, president of Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions, took to the podium to discuss BISG's inaugural study, "Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education." When the study results initially were released in early January, one particular statistic made news headlines internationally: Nearly 75 percent of students who responded to the study said they prefer printed texts, "citing a fondness for print's look and feel, as well as its permanence and ability to be resold," according to BISG.
However, Paxhia cautioned, there may be more to that statistic than meets the eye, noting that current e-textbook offerings have not achieved a high level of satisfaction among students. "Price and availability are key factors," said Paxhia, indicating that students expect digital products to be better priced.
Additionally, explained speakers Mark Nelson, vice president of National Association of College Stores (NACS) Media Solutions, and Julie Traylor, chief of planning and research, NACS, some students can't find or access e-textbooks, and some are concerned that they won't do as well in a class if they use a format different from the instructor. (Instructors, Paxhia had noted earlier in the program, generally won't adopt a format, such as a digital format, unless every student has access to it.) According to a NACS study, 50 percent of surveyed students didn't know if e-textbooks were available to them, yet 50 percent were open to the option.
Despite these obstacles, familiarity with e-textbooks is growing among students, said Nelson and Traylor. Forty-two percent of surveyed students had purchased or tried out an e-textbook last year compared to 18 percent in 2008, according to NACS data.
Nelson and Traylor also indicated that students are "very enthusiastic" about textbook rental programs, which they view as approximately 50-percent off the retail purchase price. "Students love sales promotions," said Traylor.
Jade Roth, vice president of books and digital strategy, Barnes & Noble College Bookstore, also noted an increase in rentals at B&N College Bookstores, two-thirds of which now offer rental programs. "When offered a choice, 30 percent of students choose rental," she said.
Roth also said that educating students on digital options was a challenge. The biggest challenge, she continued, was explaining digital rights management (DRM). "They expect freedom," she said of students. They also expect consistency, she continued, and are confused by different publishers offering different levels of DRM.
Neil Marquardt, director of 4LTR Press, a division of Cengage Learning, which is experimenting with a "one price fits all model"—products offered in print only, digital only and a combination of print and digital, all priced at a $60 to $70 price point—pointed to The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's recently released iPad-only magazine, and its content created specifically for the iPad format. "We need to do that as publishers," he said, expanding on a point made earlier in the day by Paxhia that consumers do not like replica versions of print products.