Old school rules in text buying

Digital age has yet to catch on

Tuesday marked the busiest day of the year at Thompson Rivers University's bookstore.

Opening student services and the bookstore a few days before the start of school has helped alleviate the lineups, as has faster point-of-sale technology.

But little else in the digital age has brought about change to the familiar - and pricey - pain of buying textbooks.

"To be honest it hasn't caught on," bookstore manager Glenn Read said of digital books and use of eReaders for study on campus.

In fact, not only haven't digital textbooks rocked the world of book buying at the school, it barely registers - despite what can be a major price advantage.

Included on the bookstore's shelf tags are listings for the cost of the paper text as well as the cost of a digital download. Downloaded texts are typically available for laptops as well as tablets and smartphones. Read estimates digital books cost 20 to 50 per cent less than paper versions.

Despite that cost advantage, sales of digital books make up less than one per cent of sales at TRU's bookstore.

"I don't think it's interactive enough," Read said. "It's usually a pdf and there are restrictions on the time you can hold it."

He also cautions students to read the fine print on digital textbooks before buying.

"You can lose rights to your digital textbook before the semester is done."

Once the digital rights are gone, the book will vanish from the screen.

While digital offerings haven't changed the world of textbooks at TRU, as they have in the music industry, one similarity is the impact of illegal downloading. Read said it's impossible to gauge if, and how often, students are sharing illegal copies of texts on eReaders.

While students entering university have grown up on iPods and the Internet, several surveyed this week by The Daily News said they're treading carefully into the pricey world of textbooks.

"We decided against it," first-year bachelor of arts student Mackenzie Wheaton said of going digital in the early days of her school career.

Mackenzie spent time at the bookstore with her mother, Heather, determining the best values. They estimate she'll spend $500 this semester.

"We thought the first semester she'll talk to other students and figure out the way to go," said Heather.

They've also spoken with other students. Some said ebooks are awkward because it's not as easy to flip back and forth as a traditional book.

"We'll do the first semester (with traditional textbooks) even if it costs a little more," Heather said.

Nearby in the aisles, Alyssa Thesen is about to embark on a bachelor of fine arts at TRU. She's also staying traditional for now.

"It's not a big-spending semester," said mother, Corrina. "Who knows next year?"

Read said students still have a lot of choices, even with paper textbooks. Those range from the purchase of new or used, or one-semester rental of new or used textbooks.

In the case of a business textbook required for one semester this year, a new book will cost $256. It's available used for $194 or as little as $103 for rental of a used book.

Read said rental, which has been made available as an option in the past few years, is popular because it the cheapest out-of-pocket expense for students.

With some disciplines - nursing, for example - students typically opt to purchase books because they use them for reference once the class is over.

While tradition still rules on the shelves, Read said the industry recognizes change is coming.

"Over time technology will take over."

That will mean the store will shift more toward merchandizing as space for textbooks inevitably shrinks. But today TRU's bookstore has expanded its book space due to demands placed by the new law school.

"We know we need to expand because the textbook industry will change," Read said.

cfortems@kamloopsnews.ca

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