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For Textbooks, Paper Still Trumps Digital

Monday, September 10, 2012 - 07:31 AM

Despite recent advances in digital technology, the nation's schoolchildren will likely be wrapping their textbooks in brown paper for years to come.

While one in five Americans have read a book on a device like the iPad, Kindle and Nook, according to a recent study by Pew Research, few have studied using an e-textbook.

The paperless tomes โ€” also known as digital textbooks โ€” make up just two percent of overall textbook sales in the United States, according to Forrester Research.

New York City's Department of Education does not track how many public schools are using digital textbooks in the classroom.

"Publishers are in the process of replicating what they do in print in a digital format," said Forrester senior analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "Phase two is actually creating new products for digital devices that are not repurposed from print, and that's a much harder, much bigger project."

Americans own 40 million e-readers and more than 60 million tablet computers, and those numbers are expected to nearly double in five years, according to Forrester. It's a business opportunity for publishers, but one that comes with challenges.

Chief among them is learning to turn a profit.

"Publishers hope to sell their digital products at or near parity with print, but in every other industry, digital products have cost a lot less," Rotman Epps said.

Then there's the competition from companies like Apple, which began offering iBooks 2, iAuthor and iTunes U in January and education technology start-ups like Inkling, which creates interactive books and textbooks for the iPhone, iPad and web.

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