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There have been mixed signals coming from college campuses about e-books and e-readers. While interest and sales in the former have increased, it's not clear that college students have been terribly keen on e-readers. And the vast majority of students still say they prefer print.

But that may be changing. According to the latest report from the National Association of College Stores (NACS), e-reader ownership has jumped significantly in the last six months, owing perhaps to a holiday shopping season that emphasized iPads, Kindles, and Nooks. Nearly 15% of college students surveyed reported owning an e-reader, up from 8% in October.

Kindle is the most popular by far, with over half of those who own e-readers owning the Amazon device. This was followed by the Nook (21%), the iPhone (17%), and the iPad (10%). As those figures show, the exact definition of e-reader is pretty loose. But clearly college students aren't just using dedicated e-readers to read digital books. The study did find, however, that they're using their laptops less for this purpose.

Yet 75% of students say they prefer print, a proportion that's been pretty consistent for the last few years.

E-Readers and Higher Ed

Preferring Print: I find it fascinating that the number of students who say they prefer print has stayed roughly the same since 2008, even though types of devices, as well as the selection and features of e-textbooks, have greatly improved over that same time-frame. What has to happen to shift this preference? (The corollary: does students' preference matter? I don't mean that flippantly. I mean, although students are the consumers of textbooks, they don't have a lot of choice in the purchases. They're "required reading," after all.)

Kindles and Libraries: Amazon announced this week that it would be launching a lending program later this year, in conjunction with OverDrive, so that Kindle e-books could be checked out from libraries. This brings Kindle to parity with other e-readers that already worked with OverDrive, but the Kindle will have an additional (very cool) feature: the ability to annotate library books, then save those notes (which will sync if you borrow the book again or buy it). What impact will Kindle lending have on students and academic libraries? This seems like it could be a pretty big deal for e-textbooks.

Device Wars: How many tech gadgets will students own? Smartphone. Gaming console. Laptop. tablet. Dedicated e-reader. I don't think most students can afford all of the above, and I'm not sure they'll feel the need to do so either. So then, what ones will they opt for? At current price points and functionality, the laptop-smartphone-dedicated e-reader combo seems like a good bet. Will the laptop give way to tablets? If so, when?

The last time I wrote about students and e-textbooks and e-readers, someone warned me not to conflate students' thoughts on e-books with their thoughts on e-readers. But I think content and form are connected.

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Audrey Watters


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