The University of Minnesota Bookstore announced today that they had signed a new 2 year deal with McGraw-Hill to offer students cheaper digital textbooks. Come Fall 2012, students in some courses will be offered a cheaaper textbook option as part of a digital bundle.
A lot of details are still being worked out, but I do know a few things. Right now only McGraw-Hill is signed up, and it looks like the ebooks might be offered either via Coursesmart or CafeScribe, which the UMinn bookstore sells right now, or via McGraw-Hill's own digital textbook platform. If a digital textbook is offered for a class it will be required, not optional, as part of the course fees. But this program is going to depend in instructor participation. As told to me, the digital textbook will only be assigned at the request of the instructor.
In exchange for the compulsory purchase students will be offered the digital textbooks at a discount price that will be much lower than the current prices. That discount is still to be determined, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. Coursesmart's prices vary from no discount to (for a few titles) 50% off, with many in the 20% to 30% range. It would be nice to be able to get the prices under the 50% mark, but I don't really expect that to happen.
This new program builds on UMinn's experience with the Courseload pilot which was run during the Spring 2012 semester. That pilot was run on Courseload's platform, with Courseload handling the payment to the publishers, but one thing that UMinn noticed was that once you started charging the individual students, Courseload wasn't quite as practical (in the pilot the universities paid a lump sum). They didn't have the payment processing ability that the UMinn bookstore offers, which is why UMinn went their own way.
UMinn is also looking to sign up other publishers, and I was also told that the textbook format for this program is not set in stone. I suspect that it might vary from one course to another based on publisher cooperation as well as availability and compatibility issues. UMinn is prepared for this and they plan to have Moodle plugins ready for whatever format or platform they need to support. Their goal is to provide students with the same experience no matter the textbook.
While I don't like required fees like this, I do see the value. Bundling the textbook cost into the course fee will help some students, particularly ones on financial aid. What's more, it might actually lower the actual cost of digital textbooks to the point where buying used might not be the cost-effective option anymore.
image by Hugo90