Texbooks: Are they history?

Printed textbooks may become a thing of the past as the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance gets ready to report its year-long findings on the rising cost of textbooks in America. In May, the committee, which serves as an independent source of advice and counsel to the U.S. Congress and the Secretary of Education for student financial aid policies, will introduce the government to the concept of Open Access-a movement that calls for all peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature to be placed on the internet for global use, free of charge.

The movement would remove all copyright and licensing restrictions, completely changing the publishing and distribution of textbooks in America. During next month’s
meeting with Congress, the advisory committee will not only present the Open Access concept, but also the problem of rising textbook prices and how this affects a student’s ability to afford postsecondary education. Congress will use these recommendations
to decide on a way to make textbooks more affordable for all students in the U.S.

Student Public Interest Research Group, an organization protesting the rising cost of textbooks, estimates that an average of $900 is spent on textbooks each year by students-a hefty amount for many who are already paying thousands of dollars on tuition and housing.

“It seems ridiculous to spend $50 or $100 on books that are only good one semester and are sometimes not even used completely,” freshman Travis Welfle said. “I would rather just look for cheaper versions online or just borrow from someone during the semester.”

His reasoning is one that has been echoed by other students, as well, who turn to websites like Half.com, varasitybooks.com, and swapbooks.com in search of cheaper prices. Many students are going as far as searching for free downloadable versions of their textbooks in an effort to avoid costs completely.

“My friend sent me the book through an email and I saved $30 during that semester,” student Laura Kim said. “As a pharmacy student, I usually spend $200 to $250 on books and if I can find a way to avoid that, I usually try to.”

However, these e-books violate copyright laws and in downloading it students are committing a crime that could subject them to a lawsuit. In an effort to stop this
practice many universities are offering e-texts through their school libraries. The libraries at the University of Virginia and the University of Indiana, for instance, offer a variety of scholarly journals and e-texts to students. The St. John’s library, however, does not offer
complete e-texts on the web, although it does have e-reserves, a system which allows professors to temporarily place scholarly documents and journals for students to download and print for class.

While the popularity of e-textbooks is on the rise, Denise Servidio, store manager of St. John’s Campus Bookstore, has not seen any major decrease in book sales, but agrees that e-textbooks could become the way of the future. She does not believe, though, that this will end high prices.

“Eventually, printed books will go, but publishers will adapt and they’ll find some way to charge students,” she said. “Right now they already offer web access cards attached to books for students to receive additional information on the internet. I can see students one
day just buying the card and then going online to open up the book.”

Despite e-textbooks and the Open Access’ mass appeal, most students still have mixed signals about the concept.

“I like the idea that it’s free online, but I don’t know if I would like staring at the screen for so long reading,” Kim said.

Some professors are also skeptical and fear ebooks would take away from the quality of the class. As economics and finance professor Milton Lipitz noted, “One day
we’ll probably all have to change our books to adapt with technology, but I personally
like teaching with the actual book, as it provides more interaction with students and gets a
clearer picture across when teaching.”