Thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for sending this article my way. The write-up, from a blog called Fast Company has some interesting insights into why the college textbook market has not been taken over by ebooks yet.
I have long held my own ideas on this matter. I have taken one course which had an online textbook option, and the functionality was so limited that it wasn’t even worth bothering. Cut and paste was completely disabled, the books could not be read offline, they were scanned PDF and not OCR-searchable, and they expired the day after the course ended. The print book was only $10 more and could be kept forever. I regret not choosing that option. The crippled online copy was a waste of money and time.
But the Fast Company people make the very salient point that, unlike a Kindle fiction title which the customer chooses for themselves, the college textbooks are all chosen by the school or professor, not the end user student. There is little incentive for them to choose a cheaper option since they are not the ones doing the buying anyway, and often they will have a vested interest in what the customer chooses since some textbooks are authored by professors themselves.
As for the kids, they are often using their parent’s money to buy the books and so may not be terribly motivated to comparison shop.
I think many schools are becoming more sensitive to the price issue, but a lot can depend on the professor’s own preferences. I took a course last summer which had no book at all and used only online articles, but I am hoping to take another this summer from the same university, and it has three required texts in the course description.