e-Textbooks: Debunking a Few Common Misperceptions

02-04-2014 08:59:25 am

e-Textbooks: Debunking a Few Common Misperceptions

New technology is impacting on how we access and read information, and e-textbooks are becoming an integral to learning. Digital publishing has triggered structural innovation in a centuries-old industry, demanding new business models. Consumers are adapting to change but many still question the value and role of e-textbooks. We talk to Van Schaik’s Senior Product Manager and e-textbook expert Ermien Louw about market misperceptions.


Misperception #1: e-textbooks are overpriced

Many consumers believe e-textbooks should be cheaper than paperbacks.

While readers understand the basic costs involved in bricks-and-mortar retail, they don’t understand the costs involved in selling something as intangible as an electronic textbook.

The reality is that the physical manufacturing and distribution costs of traditional books are much lower than you’d expect: these two items account for as low as 12% of the cost of production, so eliminating these two necessities, as e-textbooks do, doesn’t do much to reduce the overall cost structure.

Van Schaik’s Senior Product Manager and e-textbook expert Ermien Louw sheds some light on the fixed expenses publishers have when producing an e-textbook: “Aside from the usual costs of content acquisition, editing, marketing and author royalties, e-textbook publishers now have a few added expenses to deal with. The cost of digital preparation and quality assurance in formatting e-textbooks to function across a variety of e-readers accounts for a large share of the price.  In addition, publishers must factor in the costs of digital distribution to e-retailers like VitalSource, Amazon, and Apple; as well as the expenses involved in any added functionalities designed to enhance the e-textbook experience for the reader.”

Misperception #2: e-textbooks are harder to learn from than physical books

There is an interesting argument being raised in many studies that claim that reading something in an electronic format makes you less likely to remember it. This idea revolves around the importance of cognitive landmarks, such as page numbers, in the formation of long-term memory.

While your e-reader may not display page numbers, the e-textook format present a unique opportunity to cement information in the minds of students with added value content and innovative learning tools. They can be easily updated and many formats allow readers to interact with the material more, with gamification of the content, quizzes, video, audio and other multimedia to reinforce lessons learned.

Louw is witnessing the benefits of this trend firsthand – “We are seeing much more added functionality, in ways not previously available to the printed format,” she explains. “It’s a completely different, more exciting learning experience.

“An engineering lecturer recently explained to me how he had always struggled to explain an intricate three dimensional model to his students. When his course content became available in e-textbook format, it offered his students an entirely different learning experience, and the pace of their grasp and understanding became far quicker.”

Misperception #3: e-textooks aren’t accessible, especially in emerging economies

According to the 2013 Global eBook Report, a significant part of the population of emerging nations such as South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, the Gulf countries, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam can in fact afford and are utilising mobile networks of digital content.

This trend, along with the growing educational aspirations displayed by those who live within these economies, means that e-textbooks are penetrating the market even faster than they did in many developed countries.

In the South African context, however, Louw reports less than satisfactory levels of accessibility, citing the lack of widespread broadband access and high costs of data as central challenges.

However, this situaion is set to improve rapidly, with the cost of entry-level computers, readers and tablets droppping, broadband becoming more accessible, the quality of broadband improving and the cost of data being driven down.