Pending legislation in the Ohio General Assembly may mandate that the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR) collaborate with textbook publishers to ensure electronic versions are available of all textbooks assigned by public universities within two years. Although the reduced cost and extensive features of electronic textbooks are highly desirable, this board feels the time is not right to issue a blanket requirement. Because electronic textbook technology is not developed or widespread enough, a blanket requirement could limit professors’ choices, detrimentally effecting curriculum.
Electronic textbooks offer many advantages and unique features. Professors are able to edit, rearrange and insert content. Students can search for text, annotate and avoid the inconvenience of carrying heavy books. Texts can more readily be converted into mediums appropriate for students with disabilities. Finally, electronic versions of textbooks would be much easier on students’ wallets. However, this board feels such move would be premature. Many students and professors are still uncomfortable with the technology, which we feel is insufficiently developed for ease of use and distribution.
While large publishers have the resources to develop electronic versions of texts full of features, many upper-division courses are taught with more obscure books that are not as widely in print, or many not even be in print in the United States. This would be especially problematic for literature courses. In an ideal world, electronic versions would be available for every textbook. But with the technology still in its early stages, it seems unreasonable and overly optimistic to think a blanket requirement would be feasible within two years.
It is disturbing to think the lack of availability of a textbook could force professors to change the content of their courses. This board recognizes the need to reduce costs for students. Electronic textbooks clearly have a place in classrooms of the future. The market will respond when the technology is sufficiently developed. But for now, there are better ways to cut costs. OhioLINK, which students use to borrow texts from libraries across the state, can be better funded and expanded. OBR can work to increase the availability of electronic textbooks without a blanket requirement. University bookstores can resell used books for fairer prices. Professors can be encouraged to allow students to purchase slightly older editions of textbooks. The format of textbooks is not the main driver behind their inflated prices; greedy publishers and unnecessary updates are the basis of the textbook racket.
If the Ohio General Assembly wants to do students a favor, they should address the structural flaws of the textbook industry rather than the cosmetic flaws. Publishers – not professors or students – should be forced to make adjustments.