Home eTextbooks: iPad & eReaders Lag Behind, PCs Still Dominant

eTextbooks: iPad & eReaders Lag Behind, PCs Still Dominant

Last week we looked at the pros and cons of eBooks vs traditional paper books. For the consumer market, eBooks are still at the early stage of adoption – but becoming more popular due to the iPad and the price point getting lower for eReaders like Kindle.

Another market where eBooks have a lot of potential is education. It too is at an early stage, but there are many benefits to students accessing their text books electronically. Shared highlights, margin notes, search – to name a few. Surprisingly though, it’s not iPad and eReaders that are driving the eTextbook market – but PCs and netbooks. The iPhone and Android are making some in-roads, however. We spoke to one of the leading eTextbook services, CafeScribe, to find out more about the emerging eTextbook market.

Isabella Hinds is director of digital content at the Follett Higher Education Group, which runs over 800 college bookstores in the USA. It also owns a digital textbook program called CaféScribe, used by over 400 education institutions in the US. I asked Hinds how CafeScribe is used currently.

Hinds told us that CafeScribe is mostly used on PCs, Macs and netbooks. She cited pricing issues for iPad (students can’t afford them) and the relative lack of functionality in current eReaders. Specifically, she cited color, pagination and illustration as features that the current crop of eReaders don’t do well enough for the eTextbook market. This echoes our conclusions from over a year ago, when we analyzed why Kindle wasn’t a good choice for eTextbooks.

How CafeScribe Works

Students buy an eBook either on CafeScribe’s online store or in its offline store. They then read it via a PC and Mac software program called MyScribe.

CafeScribe Features

Notes in MyScribe are done as overlays, so that they stay in context. Notes can also be shared, including in groups, which according to Isabella Hinds means that students can “have a dialog about the book while they’re reading.”

Groups may be created not only inside the classroom environment, but as part of the purchase of an eBook. The buyer can see who else purchased that same eTextbook, and choose to create or join a group around the book. Follett has observed that many students are creating study groups around books.

Groups are also very useful for instructors, who can create a group for their class. Hinds told us that this enables instructors to “enrich the core book with content or comments that they find valuable.” They can also better engage with students and ascertain whether students are really learning the material. Teachers can encourage students to ask questions, via the notes feature.

One of the main features of MyScribe that Hinds pointed to is maintaining pagination, which helps in group collaboration and also syncing eBooks with paper books.

eTextbook Market & Future

Currently there are about 10,000 books available in CafeScribe. Hinds said that Follett represents all of the major Higher Ed publishers, including the 5 largest.

The product is being used today by about 400 education institutions across the US. Some are using the product heavily, while others have just a few courses that utilize it. The product is currently being introduced in Canadian stores, but there are no plans to extend outside of North America.

As for its future, CafeScribe is making a push towards mobile – in particular the iPhone, Android, and iPad. It recognizes that students use a variety of devices nowadays, so it wants to go beyond the PC market. Whether CafeScribe can tackle eReader devices will, as noted above, depend on iPad pricing going down and eReader functionality going up.

Other companies in the eTextbook market include CourseSmart (which we reviewed last August) and VitalSource.

Students & Teachers: Are You Using eTextbooks?

A study in May by OnCampus Research showed that 74% of students still prefer to use a printed textbook when taking a class. The Seattle Times also reported in May that eTextbooks are “flunking.” So clearly, eTextbooks have a long way to go. On the other side of the coin, eTextbooks are expected to 1 in 5 textbooks by 2014.

Much of the problem at present seems to be that eReaders are either too expensive (e.g. iPad) or not functional enough (e.g. Kindle). Those issues certainly seem solvable by 2014.

If you’re a student or teacher, we’d love your input in the comments about your use of eBooks – or if you don’t use them, why not?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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