Bill says schools must provide digital versions of textbooks

Long lines at the bookstore and high textbook prices could eventually be a thing of the past thanks to a California bill that will require universities to offer texts through electronic readers such as the Kindle or the Nook.

Senate Bill 48 adds a section to the California Education Code, mandating that all textbooks be offered “in whole or in part” through electronic readers by 2020. Initially, the bill only targeted public colleges, but it was amended to include private universities as well. The bill is aimed at lowering the financial burden of buying textbooks. Though students will be required to purchase an electronic reader to access these texts and may run into additional fees, the overall costs will be less than buying traditional textbooks.

Smart shoppers · A state bill mandates that schools provide an option for students to buy textbooks on electronic readers, allowing them to avoid the bookstore and potentially save money. - Heather Lee | Daily Trojan

Susan Metros, USC’s deputy chief information officer and associate vice provost for technology-enhanced learning, said USC is already exploring alternative ways to offer textbooks.

“Our faculty are looking closely at electronic textbooks as an alternative, when appropriate, to replace print,” said Metros, who is also a professor of visual design and clinical education.

She noted that current digital readers lack some of the capabilities necessary to display textbooks.

“There are issues with the first generation of readers and the content that they support,” she said.

Despite the push from the state to increase access via digital readers, Director of the USC Bookstores Daniel Archer said the core issue is lowering costs, whether through electronic readers or some other medium.

“To me, the larger issue is how we control cost,” Archer said. “The bookstore, for the last 20 years, has been on this path of migration. There have been so many movements to try to nip the price problem in the bud.”

Though the increase in digital textbooks might cause a decrease in textbook sales at the bookstore, Archer said the bookstore would be able to fill any missing revenue with other products, such as those offered in the basement of the store.

Still, Archer said he does not think the bill will have much of an impact, he believes students prefer reading texts in print. He added that the bookstore is already looking at other ways to keep costs down, including relying more on custom publishing.

Though students supported the effort to decrease textbook costs, most thought the bill would be better if the texts could be viewed on a computer, so they could be printed.

“In one of my [communication] classes the professor told us there was no need to buy the textbook because all of the readings were going to be articles she was going to send us,” said Laura Escobar-Vallecillo, a sophomore majoring in communication. “It made me really happy because it was an $100 textbook.”

She added that she still prefers printed texts.

Samuel Treviño, a freshman majoring in archeology, said he enjoys using online sources in his classes, but he also likes to interact with textbooks by writing in and highlighting them.

“I think as long as students have the option to have the physical textbook too, [this bill] would be fine with me,” Treviño said.