Digital textbooks provide alternative to students

Given the progressive nature of the digital age, the digitization of textbooks seemed inevitable. Within 10 years, it has manifested in formats like Adobe’s PDF and Microsoft’s .lit format. However, only recently has the technology gone mainstream, with gadgets like the Kindle, NOOK and other e-readers.

Universities that subscribe to the Follet Higher Education Group for textbook distribution will now be able to provide students access to digital textbooks. Starting this year, students will be able to buy digital editions of their textbooks online, through a system known as CafeScribe.

Through CafeScribe, students can view their textbooks via a desktop application known as MyScribe. Users can highlight and take notes on their digital edition. The system is designed to encourage collaboration, meaning that these notes can easily be shared online between users.

“I think the idea is a good one,” sophomore Nikhil Ghorpade said. “Being able to access and interact with your books online from anywhere is a convenience that’s been a long time coming.”

While the technology may make academic material more accessible, there are disadvantages. The interface of MyScribe has been panned by some as “clunky” and “unintuitive.” The proprietary application is only available on Android. Textbooks can’t be viewed on many tablets and e-book readers, including Apple products. Furthermore, textbooks can only be viewed through the MyScribe application from a fixed number of computers and only for a limited time, as regulated by a restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) system.

“This effectively turns textbooks into a rental program, which ends up costing students,” said Spencer Carran, a senior majoring in biology and mathematics.

From a financial standpoint, the prices of digital editions are marked lower than new print editions of textbooks sold at UM’s bookstore. Yet the discount is not absolute. When compared to used editions sold at local booksellers, digital textbook prices are similar. However, when compared to the prices of used textbooks or rental services widely available online, the digital versions lose their edge, especially given their limitations.

August 24, 2011


Amith Ravindar

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