The E-Book Sector

E-textbooks might be the most-talked about and least-used learning tools in traditional higher education. Campus libraries and e-reader manufacturers are betting on electronic learning materials to overtake traditional textbooks in the foreseeable future, but very few students at traditional institutions are currently using e-textbooks, according to recent surveys.

Not so in the world of for-profit online education. Online for-profits such as American Public University System and the University of Phoenix have for years strategically steered students toward e-textbooks in an attempt to shave costs and ensure a more reliable delivery method that, in the context of online education, might seem to make more sense. At Kaplan University’s law school, digital texts account for around 80 percent of assigned reading. At Capella University, e-textbooks are an available and accepted option in nearly all 1,250 courses. In for-profit higher education, more than any other sector, the traditional book is becoming obsolete.

Phoenix actually mandates that instructors assign digital materials “whenever feasible” — a strategic turn the company started to take back in 2003, but which has come to fruition more recently, with so many more materials now available in digital format. At this point, roughly 90 percent of Phoenix’s course content is delivered via e-books or other electronic means — the only exceptions coming in courses such as art history, where copyright issues surrounding digital renderings of images such as paintings remain a hurdle for e-book publishers, says David Bickford, the vice president of academic affairs at Phoenix.

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