Electronic textbook sales low across B.C.

Karla Karcioglu, Contributor Ω

An iRiver E-book shows a textbook about JavaScript. - PHOTO BY ANDREW MASON.

An iRiver E-book shows a textbook about JavaScript. – PHOTO BY ANDREW MASON.

Despite saving students’ money and conveniently helping them avoid future back problems, electronic textbooks aren’t gaining popularity on B.C. campuses.

Glenn Read, TRU’s bookstore manager, said etexts, which have been offered for four years, are consistently less than one per cent of total sales.

“It’s not caught on,” he said.

The numbers are the same at Capilano University, said Brian Ball, bookstore manager, with etexts accounting for less than one per cent of total sales.

Ryan Hirowatari, manager of the University of British Columbia’s bookstore, said etext sales are 1.5 percent of total sales.

At Simon Fraser University, etext sales are about 6.5 per cent, according to Carrie Harfman, bookstore supervisor.

“Considering we have 28,000 students, yes it’s very low,” she said.

Though there is no way to say for sure why etexts aren’t very popular for post-secondary students, several theories were offered.

“When digital came out, there were certain restrictions that didn’t lend itself to a semester,” Read said. “Some [etexts] had a time frame like 180 days. So it sometimes it didn’t last the entire semester and when it came down to crunch time when preparing for exams, you no longer had access to it or you’d have to pay more to acquire it again.

“It wasn’t really designed well, in my opinion, for the benefit of our students.”

Harfman has a different theory.

“The reason why [etexts] are not taking off as fast in Canada, compared to the U.S., is because of the cost benefit and the conversion of Canadian content,” she said.

“Right now there is not enough comfort for students to try digital books,” Ball said, adding that interest is rising but access is difficult.

“Our bookstore is posting links to digital books, which helps get students the right book,” Ball said. “It can be confusing, as the publisher often has quite a few different versions of the same material. Some come with study aids, some don’t, some have quiz components, etcetera.”

“Publishers are going around the bookstores, encouraging faculty and staff to buy etexts directly from the companies that create them,” said Penny Drapper, textbook manager at the University of Victoria bookstore. “So what bookstores see as sales are just a small percentage. Most [experts] suggest that real numbers are closer to 25 per cent.”

Tiesha Collins-Newton, a first-year bachelor of science, purchased one etext and said she would not do it again. She said despite the convenience of being able to fit it on her iPad, the etext was slow and difficult to work with.

Peter Schmalz, a first-year tourism management student, also purchased one etext. He said it was a fraction of the price and came quickly.

Derek Scott, a second-year nursing student, said he has not and would not consider buying one. He said he’s traditional, preferring to have the book with him as opposed to going online.

Ball feels etexts will slowly become more popular as more students try it successfully and the word spreads. He is expecting etext sales to reach 10 to 20 per cent in a few years.

Read isn’t certain whether etexts will become more popular in the future.

“Maybe that will change as the next generation comes along that has been accustomed to a tablet versus a traditional book,” he said. “I’m not sure. Time will tell.”