Monthly Archives: May 2016

US perceptions of the e-text landscape: part 3

In the final post of her three part series, Aimee delves deeper into the research conducted at the University of Central Florida (UCF) to better understand the digital landscape on campus. Part one looked at the trends contributing to an underwhelming use of eTextbooks in the US higher education system and part two described Aimee’s professional journey with eTextbooks at UCF.


To better understand the digital landscape on campus, we distributed surveys to UCF students about eTextbooks in 2012 and 2014, and have just completed one in 2016. While the findings cannot be generalized to US higher education institutions as a whole, they do confirm some trends that have been discovered in other research studies.

eTextbook use

Over the four-year period from 2012 to 2016, eTextbook use at UCF has increased dramatically. In 2012, 42% of participating students indicated they had used an eTextbook at least once in their college studies. In 2014, the percentage increased to 60%; in 2016, up to 73%. In just four years, eTextbook use has grown over 30%. This is remarkable, considering we do not have a specific campus initiative to use eTextbooks.

Regarding devices, the vast majority of students (80%) use the computer most frequently to access their eTextbooks. This number has remained steady over four years, despite increasing tablet ownership. 37% of students owned a tablet in 2012; 57% in 2014; and 59% in 2016. However, only around 12% of students said they used tablets most frequently to access eTextbooks in 2016; the same percentage was found in 2012.

When asked what kind of eTextbook students used, PDFs or ones that offered basic reading features were selected the most. We found a slight increase in eTextbooks with more interactive elements, such as simulations and note sharing. In 2014, 28% of students said they had used at least one eTextbook with interactive elements; in 2016, that had increased to 36%.

Influential factors for adoption

Lower cost remains the top factor in influencing students to select an eTextbook rather than a print textbook. Ability to access eTextbooks anywhere is the second most popular reason. The preference for print is still alive and well. In 2016, students that had never used an eTextbook in their college studies were asked to indicate reasons for this, and 73% said they preferred print. Preferring to sell back books for money at the end of the semester was a distant second.

Preferences for features have also remained quite steady. Reading features (searching for keywords, glossary) and study features (highlighting, annotating) were highly valued, while social features (sharing notes with peers) were less so.

Instructor role

Recognizing how important the instructor is to successful eTextbook integration, we asked students in 2014 about their instructors’ involvement. About 30% of students who had used eTextbooks before said that their instructors gave them instructions on how to access the book and told them who to contact for technical help. Similarly, around 30% also said that the instructor actually modelled how to effectively read and study from an eTextbook.


While eTextbook use is increasingly common, the reasons appear logistical (lower cost and convenience) rather than for pedagogical. The pedagogical side cannot be ignored. Publishers and providers of digital content need to increase the interactivity of the content in order to go beyond simple digital facsimiles of print versions. Additionally, instructors need to select eTextbooks with high quality features, as well as model the use of the eTextbook to show how to read and study effectively from the digital resource. This points to the need for professional development, with campus stakeholders such as librarians and instructional designers playing a defined role. At UCF, we have created a self-paced online course called eTextbook Essentials, which provides UCF instructors with an overview of the landscape, including common barriers to course integration and practical guides to assist with integration.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

Questions and (some) answers

question mark

We recently completed a series of meetings with some of the publishers we have been working with on the Books Right Here Now Project (in supplying an individual copy of a textbook to large number of our students)

From our perspective the objectives of these meetings were:

  • to understand the environment publishers are working within
  • to inform future negotiations around e-textbook acquisition and supply
  • to develop a sustainable and mutually beneficial model for future supply

To meet our objectives we asked each of the publishers to answer a number of questions (sample examples provided below) in advance based around the following themes:

Book Production

What elements make up the cost of production in a standard text book and how does a digital book differ?

Unit Pricing

What percentage number of units would you expect to sell to a particular cohort via your retail/distribution channels?


How are authors reacting to changing model of production and in particular impact upon on author royalties?


What is your preferred model of delivery for your digital text books e.g. via an intermediary, via your own platforms?


What is your optimum pricing model? e.g. flat fee, subscription, usage based etc.?


What are your views on future issues of production and delivery of e-text books?

We were under no illusions that publishers have found some of the questions difficult to answer and indeed a number used the veil of “commercial in confidence” to hide behind on certain questions.   Understandable perhaps, but a little frustrating and only made us think further that their current margins on textbooks are still healthy and even excessive, albeit if under pressure from the increasingly volatile nature of the textbook market.

Nevertheless it was a series of very productive meetings, especially with those publishers that shared the most information!   We will divulge some of the findings in due course (without, of course, giving out any sensitive information!)  For now, here are some of the general themes that emerged:

  • The vice like grip that both print sales and the print pricing model still has on the e-textbook model. Despite falling or plateauing print sales, like a baby with a dummy, this is something many are unwilling or unable to give up…
  • All are aware of seismic changes affecting the market both now and especially in the future, but none are fully sure whether to stick or twist…
  • The belief (or fervent wish perhaps) that their own adaptive learning systems and solutions are the key to their future prosperity! From our perspective and that of our academics and students the jury is most certainly out on this issue…

Interesting times indeed – comments very welcome!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Karen Eliot via flickr (license)