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Why campus bookstores should hit the books

Walking into the UBC campus bookstore this year, I saw smartphone-equipped college students packed into seemingly endless lines at campus…

By Hassan Arshad , in iWant to Learn , on January 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , , ,

Walking into the UBC campus bookstore this year, I saw smartphone-equipped college students packed into seemingly endless lines at campus bookstores. Most perused the thousands of books out of sheer obligation, a few seemed keen. Everyone in the building understood one simple concept. The price of necessity.

The students need the bookstore for course material they can’t find elsewhere and the bookstore needs the students for revenue.  With tablet computing gaining steam this will soon change and campus bookstores better brace for impact.

At this point course material digitization plays a meager role around college campuses, but its inevitable growth can mean disaster for campus bookstores and the university.

Recent research by The National Association of College Stores has some daunting facts the bookstores should consider.

  • NACS, 60%-75% of college students will have an iPad or a comparable device in four years.
  • According to NACS, electronic titles currently account for just 2%-3% of college bookstore sales, but by 2012 are projected to reach 10%-15%.

The research findings may seem ominous on the surface, but they do give the industry some time. At this point 74 per cent of college students still prefer physical textbooks.  How long this will last, no one really knows but that doesn’t mean some aren’t preparing.

Textbook publishers are already jumping into the ebook foray. Three of the biggest North American publishers are working with ScrollMotion, an Apple iPhone/iPad app developer, to digitize their physical course material for the iPad or iPhone.

For students, going the iPad route for course material will undoubtedly save money. The iPad costs $549, while a semester of college books can run students $150 and up, way up. And unfortunately for books, the iPad offers far more to the technology-minded student. Including video streaming, instant messaging, blogs and news all while weighing far less than most course textbooks.

Digitized content can seem great to students but one thing they shouldn’t forget is that the university gets a great deal of its revenue from the campus book stores.  If the campus bookstore is not longer a viable source of revenue, universities may have to hike tuition to cover the shortfall.

The question is, will students still end up paying for books even though they aren’t paying for books?