E-textbooks launch in the states

By Вen Li

Electronic textbooks will be an option for some American students this fall.

Students at Princeton University, the University of Utah and eight other colleges will be offered some textbooks in electronic PDF format at two-thirds the cost of their printed counterparts.

But unlike paper books, students will not be able to sell their electronic texts back to the bookstore or to other students at the end of the term. Instead, the electronic books are tied to particular computers–meaning they can’t be copied–and expire after five months of use.

The U of C has not publicly commented on any potential moves to electronic editions of required course textbooks. But it does currently sell some non-academic titles, such as popular computer reference books from publisher O’Rielly, which are available in both formats.

Educators are divided about the move to electronic texts. While some see it as a way to relieve the shortage of some textbooks at the start of terms, others are concerned about the high price for ephemeral goods.

“I try to take into account the cost of texts but there are many other considerations and while I might hate requiring a $100 book, what am I to do if I decide this book is superior to a $50 book?” commented one educator. “Many of us take steps to mitigate these costs. I push fair use to the absolute limit in making electronic resources available to my students at no cost.”

Since the electronic books are protected by an encryption scheme that is circumventable with tools widely available on the Internet, computer savvy students might be able to get their books for free.

Both the university and Students’ Union bookstores have added electronic book lists and purchasing options in recent months. In addition, some textbooks sold at the U of C include vouchers for time-limited access to on-line content on the publishers’ web sites.

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