Last winter, Hewlett Packard conducted a 10-minute online survey at the San Jose State University (SJSU) to measure student preference for e-textbooks and printed version. A total of 527 students were involved in this survey:

Of the 527 respondents, two-thirds of which have used both e-textbooks and printed version, 57% said they prefer print. Only 21% of those polled favor the e-version. The remaining 21% stated that they prefer both formats.

The preference for print was also much higher—at 62%—in the 18- to 35-year-old bracket, which account for 75% of the respondents. Contrary to what most would expect, the younger and supposedly tech-savvy students are not all that into e-textbooks. The survey also reveals that Education and Library & Information Science students, representing 49% of the total respondents, used printed textbooks more than other majors, including Business and Science.

So a 100% electronic-only publishing strategy, which is currently pursued by several major educational publishers, needs a rethink. Incorporating print-ready and on-demand deliverables into the publishing workflow is the smart (and easy) way to increase revenues from digital-only products.

Adopting a hybrid strategy of offset and digital printing with e-book delivery covers all bases and preferences, which is easily achieved by generating and providing XML/ePUB files together with print-ready PDFs. At the same time, the push for library e-lending should not grow at the expense of print as students do not favor e-textbooks as much as most had thought.

This survey also revealed reasons for preferring print, which ranged from “ease of use” (54%), “note-taking ability” (35%) to “physical feel of book” (11%). For those favoring the e-version, factors cited include “light weight” (34%), “convenient access” (23%) and “search function” (16%). “Cost” was cited by only 15% of the respondents as a factor in purchasing the e-version.

As for other resources or supplementary materials, 47% of the respondents preferred having printed version of manuals, guides and journal articles; 22% for exercises, quizzes and assignments; and 19% for notes.

This survey, though small in sampling, clearly indicates that students still prefer ink-on-paper despite easier content accessibility and searchability via e-textbooks, or familiarity with computers, e-reading devices or e-books. It runs counter to the push for paper-free digital classroom where e-books are often marketed (and touted) as the lower cost (and lower weight) option.

Respondents were also asked if they are willing to pay more for a printed version if they already purchased an $80 e-textbook. The survey revealed that 24% of the respondents are willing to pay $10 more for the printed version while 31% are happy to pay $20 extra. Another 12% are willing to pay $40 more (at $120) for the printed version.

With students willing to pay for both e-textbook and printed version even if the latter costs 50% more (at $120), publishers should supplement e-courses with printed materials. One option is to provide customized textbooks or ancillaries for both on-demand and digital printing, and as downloadable pages. It minimizes inventory (and therefore upfront cash outlay and production costs) and enables rapid replenishment (at a push of a button).

Numerous studies have pointed to the value of print in education, especially in facilitating learning and study processes. Mangen, Walgermo & Bronnick (International Journal of Educational Research, 2013) found that reading linear texts onscreen leads to poorer reading comprehension than reading the same texts on paper while McNeish, Foster, Francescucci & West (Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 20, Issue 3, Fall 2012) concluded that printed textbooks “avoid the distractions of being on the computer or the Internet, the temptations associated with checking email, Facebook, or surfing the Web”. Foasberg’s Student Reading Practices in Print and Electronic Media (CUNY, 2013), on the other hand, confirmed that students engage more deeply with printed textbooks, and prefer print for sustained in-depth reading.

For HP, helping students to achieve improved learning outcomes is a major focus. “The SJSU survey results, along with other inputs, drive HP’s Hybrid Learning Technology and Solutions,” says Udi Chatow, education strategy and worldwide business development manager at HP Graphics Solutions, adding that “we all learn differently, and providing teachers and students flexibility in delivering or consuming education content is key. Worldwide, many students prefer having printed content as a part of their learning tools alongside electronic delivery mechanisms. So we want to be able to support both formats, and innovate to create better learning experiences.”

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