Student response to digital textbooks climbs, says new BISG study

(New York, 25 January 2013)  The popularity of digital textbooks may have hit a tipping point in 2012 as preference by college students climbed significantly, according to new research from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG)’s ongoing study of Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education. The first installment in Volume Three of the study, powered by Bowker Market Research, shows that students’ preference for print over digital texts dropped from 72 percent in November 2011 to 60 percent in late 2012. During the same period, preference for online homework systems (MindTap, MyLab, McGraw-Hill Connect, etc.) rose from 9 percent to 14 percent. The picture isn’t entirely rosy for digital texts: satisfaction with these works declined in 2012, with only 26 percent of students citing they were “very satisfied” with their digital text, down from 30 percent in 2011. These data and more are available in a PDF Summary Report as of January 25, 2013 and will be shared at BISG’s Making Information Pay for Higher Ed Publishing conference on February 7, 2013 in New York.

“Students are warming up to digital textbooks, but they’re also becoming more discerning in what they get. Simply transferring a print textbook to a digital format doesn’t work with this crowd,” said Angela Bole, Deputy Executive Director of BISG. “This is a market that’s tremendously dynamic and changing rapidly. It’s essential to watch it closely.”

The study shows a continuing decline in student commitment to owning the newest text. Less than half of students now purchase a current version of their assigned textbook, down from 62 percent in 2010. Textbook rentals continue to gain traction; now the preferred acquisition method of 13 percent of students — a significant increase over 2011’s eight percent.

The study also explores the use of tablets among students, which is growing although it continues to trail laptop and desktop PC use. In 2012, more than 37 percent of students specified they had used a tablet to read digital textbooks, up from 26 percent in 2011. The percentage of respondents specifying laptop computers fell from 82 percent to 72 percent during the same period.

Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, Volume Three also takes a first-time look at parents’ level of education as an influence on student attitudes. Not surprisingly, students whose parents had earned higher level degrees were more likely to attend four-year programs, live in campus housing, and rely on parents to pay for course materials. They were also more likely to re-sell their textbooks at the end of the semester. However, students whose parents had not earned a degree indicated they found their textbooks more useful, compared with students whose parents had earned at least an associate’s degree.

The findings from Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education come from a semi-annual online survey of college students, drawn from a nationally representative panel. To ensure the survey questions explore the appropriate trends and issues, they are developed in partnership with a variety of publishers and other companies working in the higher education marketplace. In addition to the core question set, survey sponsors and other interested parties can submit proprietary questions to supplement the core fieldings. Those interested in submitting proprietary questions should contact Nadine Vassallo,

Volume Three of Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education is sponsored by Baker & Taylor, Cengage Learning, CourseSmart, Follett Higher Education Group, and Pearson. Survey findings are available for sale both as a PDF Summary Report and as a complete data compendium, accessible online. A substantial discount is available for BISG members. For more information, or to order a copy, visit