College Print Isn’t Dead Yet

I’m not so far removed from my time at the alma mater that I can’t remember the highs and lows of college textbooks.  The excitement of the book list for new classes.  The dilemma of whether to buy new or used.  The challenge of lugging a stack of books back to the dorm.  And then the roulette-like feeling of finding out how much those textbooks were worth a mere three months after buying them (and knowing that the spines of many of them may not have been cracked during that time).

But I am also a 21st century consumer of information.  And I’m enough of a geek that the highlight of my week — so far — has been discovering that the 2011 AP Stylebook is available as an iPhone/iPad app (and is now proudly downloaded on my electronic devices, with my old, ratty 2001 edition of the AP writing guide now officially retired).
So Eduflack was quite surprised to see the info-graphic on the front page of today’s USA Today.  The question — What kind of textbooks do college students prefer?  The answer, determined by Harris Interactive speaking with more than 1,200 students on Pearson Foundation’s behalf?  Print textbooks are preferred by 55 percent of college students surveyed, with 35 percent choosing digital (tablet, e-reader, or computer).  We’ll forget about the 10 percent who have no preference, a now requisite number for most surveys, it seems.
In an age where we live on our smart phones, print textbooks are still by a sizable margin.  In an era of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and netbooks, print remains king (at least in the eyes of today’s college students).  And a time when dollars are tight and college costs are rising, those expensive print textbooks still rule.
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I was incredibly surprised by the data.  I can understand such numbers coming from professors, many of whom want to see students purchase their teachers’ textbooks.  And I can see it from the colleges and universities themselves, who depend on college bookstores as revenue centers.  But just a third of today’s college students prefer digital textbooks?  Really?
So I pose a few questions for the two-thirds of college students choosing to diss the e-text?  Do you still subscribe to print newspapers?  How many slick magazines are delivered to your mailbox each month (assuming you still have a box receiving snail mail)?  When was the last time you bought an actual, paper book for leisure reading?  Do you still keep a printed phone book in your dorm or apartment (instead of using the web)?  Just curious, is all.
This survey response really has Eduflack scratching his head.  Is the problem that current electronic book experiences don’t stack up?  Are professors down on the e-book, and students are feeding off that?  Has classroom instruction not caught up to the times, as we still deliver 20th century instruction that doesn’t warrant 21st century tools?  Or do we just like that payoff for selling back those used textbooks at the end of the term for a fraction of the purchase price.
Someone, anyone, please help me out here.  What are the motivations for the college student, in the year 2011, having such a strong preference for a print textbook?  

One thought on “College Print Isn’t Dead Yet

  1. I am a committed online newspaper reader and Kindle user (both on the actual Kindle and as an app for iPad or iPhone). But, when it comes to reading the complex content for my doctoral studies, I want hard copies I can highlight and annotate. I’ve tried finding an app that let’s me achieve the same thing, but I can’t yet recommend one. I am open to suggestions!

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