The E-Textbooks Initiative

A pilot program for the purchase of electronic versions of textbooks that are used in highly-enrolled classes at the University at Buffalo with the goals of  improving student learning, success, and satisfaction as well as making education in New York State more accessible to students by reducing costs.

E-textbooks are evolving quickly – many now incorporate multimedia content, interactive learning modules, improved searching, and annotating functionality.  As a result, e-textbooks are emerging as an important new technology-enabled approach to improving student learning and encouraging higher levels of student engagement.  While access to textbooks is a critical factor in student-learning outcomes, many students simply cannot afford to purchase all of the textbooks for their classes.  Since e-textbooks are often more affordable than their print counterparts (particularly if purchased in bulk), e-textbooks can help reduce the burden of increasingly high textbook costs on students.  The goal of this 3E proposal is to test leveraging the collective purchasing power of the large undergraduate population at UB to negotiate reasonable prices for licensing digital access to a set of core textbooks that are often used in large classes.

As e-textbooks have become more widely available and adoption rates have increased, an opportunity has emerged for the UB Libraries to assist in the successful implementation of e-textbooks at UB in order both to reduce costs for students and increase their academic success rates.  The UB Libraries are ideally suited to provide access to e-textbooks:  the Libraries have experience managing transitions from print to electronic formats and already provide access to thousands of non-textbook e-books.  Leasing semester-long access to an e-textbook is similar to setting up a year-long subscription to an e-journal.  The UB Libraries have a great deal of experience working with academic publishers, most of whom are still exploring which business models work best for textbooks in the digital environment.  Partnering with publishers now could give us the opportunity to help develop business models that are sustainable for students, libraries, and publishers alike.

This e-textbook initiative has SUNY-wide implications as well.  Many highly-enrolled classes – Introduction to Business, General Biology, Introduction to Psychology, etc. – are offered at multiple campuses across SUNY and use the same textbooks.  By leveraging enrollments from other SUNY campuses, there is the real possibility that we could negotiate deeply discounted prices for e-textbooks.