In his May 2011 article Stepping up to the Genius Bar in Campus Technology, John Waters reminds us of the coming age when "print" textbooks are outnumbered by e-textbooks. In our IT feedback sessions with campus this Spring, we heard from many students (and a few faculty) asking for us to move to e-textbooks in place of more expensive "print" options. Students also asked for more e-books in the library. So this transition to e-textbooks is certainly on our horizon.
Waters suggests that campus bookstores will eventually transition to an "Apple Store" model. In this concept, we won't recognize them as "bookstores"; instead, bookstores will sell "chunks of information" in the form of e-textbooks and other electronic materials. Waters raises these points:
The future of print
While there's a definite trend to e-books, bookstores shouldn't get rid of their "print" products anytime soon. In fact, "print" is still a preferred format for many. But the long-term strategy for a bookstore based on "print" materials will require updating in light of the growing favor of e-textbooks.
An emphasis on retail
Several colleges and universities have transitioned their bookstores to sport more "retail" items, not just books and pens. For example, South Dakota State is revamping its bookstore to move aggressively into selling computers, MP3 players, software, tshirts, jackets, and more.
The growth of textbook rentals
With the advent of e-textbooks, students no longer are required to purchase a book, and hope to re-sell it to someone else at the end of the semester. With e-textbooks, you can "rent" an electronic item for the duration of a semester, at a lower price. On average, a new "print" textbook costs about $75. An e-textook is about $44. (The article actually takes this in a different direction; this is my interpretation of the future of e-textbooks.)