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Utah college students prefer traditional textbooks to e-books, bookstore officials say

By Miranda Collette | Posted - Aug. 24, 2014 at 2:46 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — In a world where kids know how to use an iPad better than many adults, the traditional textbook has maintained popularity throughout the Utah college scene.

All along the Wasatch Front, faculty and students are picking the textbook over the e-book because of its tangible benefits.

"I think we are still waiting for that 'iPod moment,' if you will, in higher education," said Tom Hirtzel, academic resources manager for the BYU Bookstore.

Without needing Wi-Fi, students can tote textbooks outside, avoiding added distractions and turning pages in an age-old way that provides them with more freedoms.

In 2003, the Amazon Kindle was first released, but today just 32 percent of college students have taken a liking to the e-book, according to the Pew Research Center.

When I started here 15 years ago, it was, 'Everything is going to be digital in the next five years,' and I’ve heard that for 15 years. I don’t see the textbook or the printed book going away.

–Shane Girton, University of Utah Campus Store associate director

BYU senior Adam Judd said that if he had the choice, he would pick a traditional textbook over an e-book every time.

"I’ve always preferred textbooks because e-books just don’t seem to work as well," Judd said. "Typically I’ll be doing something on a laptop along with the assignment, and I like to have a book open next to it, instead of having to switch between screens."

Hirtzel said he is not surprised the majority of students prefer traditional textbooks because the technology to support an e-book has not yet made a substantial debut in higher education.

"It’s cool and it’s wonderful, but it's difficult to take that with you remotely. You have to always be tethered to the Internet," Hirtzel said.

Until an interactive form of an e-book can be downloaded onto a device so students can have a complete copy of course material, Hirtzel doesn't expect a transition away from textbooks.

Shane Girton, associate director for the Campus Store at the University of Utah, said 10 percent the store's books are offered electronically, though just 1 percent are sold.

"When I started here 15 years ago, it was, 'Everything is going to be digital in the next five years,' and I’ve heard that for 15 years," Girton said. "I don’t see the textbook or the printed book going away."

For him, it is the publishers who are slowing the transition to e-books because of a lack of control.

"One push of the send button and it can go to hundreds of different people," Girton said. "With a publisher, that’s where they make their revenue with the sales of content."

However, Girton said he would not be surprised to see the trend increase as the younger generation makes its way up the educational pyramid.


"I think as more and more younger students make their way into higher education and e-books are integrated into their grade school, they will have that expectation when they get to college," he said.

At Salt Lake Community College, just 2 percent of on-campus sales are e-books and even then students have come back unhappy, said Marianne Gines, SLCC's textbook manager.

"A lot of times students will come back and say, ‘I really want to buy the book. I can’t concentrate. I can't do it off this e-book. It hurts my eyes or it gives me a headache,'" she said.

For Gines, the issue with electronic books lies in the fact that they can not successfully serve the wide demographic of students who attend community colleges.

"We like choices for the students since we do have such a variety of ages," she said. "I know an 83-year-old lady whose going to take (a computer science and information systems) class, and it's all e-book. I don’t know how she’s going to do it," she said.

Of course, there are some who prefer the e-book because lugging around textbooks becomes absolute.

"There is an advantage to both," Gines said. "You don’t have a variety of five or six textbooks. You just carry the tablet and there you go."

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