Saturday, February 5, 2011

Montana university bookstores, textbooks undergo revolution By MARY PICKETT Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2011 12:00 am

Montana State University Billings student Kayla Miller always bought all of her textbooks at the Jackets & Co. campus bookstore.
Scholarships paying for part of the books' cost cut a textbook bill that topped $750 some semesters.
But last fall, her scholarship didn't cover books, so she began looking for other places to buy them.
She bought three textbooks in the campus bookstore and two online from, saving $20 on one book and $30 on another and receiving free shipping.
Miller, who also is the president of the Associated Students of MSU Billings, is working on degrees in marketing and human services.
This semester, busy with trips to Helena for the Montana Legislature and an 18-credit academic load, Miller bought all of her books from Jackets. The total was $490, including two e-books that were $10 to $20 cheaper than the printed versions.
Ordering books online and e-books are a small part of a revolution that campus bookstores and textbooks are going though.
College bookstores used to be a closed market, with students buying nearly all their books and supplies on campus, said Mark Frisby, general manager of Montana State University's bookstore in Bozeman.
That tradition has been changed by several quickly moving trends, including the high cost of textbooks and technology.
The cost of textbooks has outpaced inflation the past 15 to 20 years, Frisby said.
The price of textbooks, many of which now cost $100 or more, has drawn criticism as one more thing driving up the cost of higher education.
The most expensive single book at MSU Billings' Jackets is an anatomy-physiology text at $275. That includes other materials, such as a CD, study guide, lab manual and access code to go online to get more study materials, bundled with the basic text, another practice that has made texts more expensive.
Because access codes usually have time limits on how long they can be used and CDs get lost, bundling can make it harder for those books to be returned and resold the next semester.
While bundled extras sometimes are valuable, "sometimes they are junk" and a waste of the extra cost, said Timothy Wilkinson, interim dean and professor of marketing at the MSU Billings College of Business.
A Jackets survey done in December found that 72 percent of students responding don't use everything in bundled packages.
Higher textbook costs are sending students like Miller to check out other places to buy books.
Thousands of websites now sell textbooks directly to students, said Dennis Rea, director of the MSU Billings bookstore.
And hundreds more online companies rent texts to students.
Like everything on the Internet, some sites are reliable and some aren't. Among the better ones are Chegg, Rea said.
Buying texts online has risks, Frisby said. Students have to be sure that they are getting the exact textbook and edition required by the professor.
Bookstore managers and professors say they are aware of the high cost of textbooks and work to make course material more affordable.
Jackets buys back texts from students if the books will be used the next semester. It then sells those used books — as well as used books it gets from wholesalers — to students.
That keeps books within the cost of ordering online, Rea said.
Jackets also has started renting texts to students to reduce their costs.
So far, few students are renting texts — just 12 at the beginning of this semester. But Rea expects more to do so as students find out about it and the rental process improves.
The University of Montana Bookstore in Missoula also rents textbooks, and MSU in Bozeman plans to do so.
Even with other options, most MSU Billings students still buy from the campus bookstore.
Rea estimates that about 10 percent of MSU Billings students don't buy a text at all. Those students may share a text or have a professor who says that textbook readings are a supplemental resource and that tests will be based primarily on lecture material.
Jackets now offers some textbooks both in print and electronic form. But e-books haven't caught on with students in a big way, Rea said.
One disadvantage of e-books is their relative impermanence. While some e-books don't expire, others are licensed to expire at the end of a semester, Frisby said.
University of Montana students still prefer printed books because the price difference between a used print book and e-book still is small, said Bryan Thornton, manager of the UM Bookstore.
The newest textbook innovation — portable reading devices, such as iPads and Kindles — haven't drawn much interest from students because the devices are not technologically nimble enough yet to be used easily for academic study.
Reading on them for four or five hours is difficult because an imperceptible flicker can strain eyes, Rea said. It's also difficult to flip back and forth through pages, underline passages and write notes in the margins.
But that will change as the devices improve.
MSU Billings students who "came to kindergarten with a laptop and leave college with an iPad" will demand more electronically driven texts, Rea said.
Fran Bergum, bookstore manager at Rocky Mountain College, said students at Rocky have three options: buy or rent printed textbooks or purchase e-books.
Rentals cost half of the cost of a new text. As for the price difference of a regular and e-book, one textbook cost $136, and its e-book version was about $99.
Students downloading e-books from Follett's CaféScribe website have a lifetime license to use the book on three computers but can't sell it to another student.
Just what campus bookstores and textbooks will be like in the future is anybody's guess, but they probably will be radically different.
Some universities in other parts of country are experimenting with replacing conventional texts with iPads.
The state of Washington is developing low-cost, online material for its community and technical colleges, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The UM College of Technology has started an experiment to eliminate printed textbooks and reduce costs for more than 1,200 students in entry-level math courses. This semester, students can either buy an access code to get all class materials online or buy a textbook for $13 more.
For summer semester, students in those classes will only get the material online, although they can print off material at home.
Thornton estimates that the cost of the material will be 45 to 50 percent cheaper than a traditional textbook.
Homework also will be done and graded online, giving the professor a chance to see who might need extra help.
How successful the project is will determine if it's tried for other classes.