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Physical textbooks remain a top seller

Physical books are still a critical part of education.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Electronic books have eaten into physical book sales for years, but digital options remain less popular in educational institutions across the country. The world of educational publishing seemed ripe for disruption by digital textbooks, however, the shift toward digital options simply hasn't occurred. This means publishers will continue to explore options that make digital books more appealing to students, and ensures that textbook distributors will employ people throughout the transportation sourcing field into the future. 

The appeal of eBooks
Digital textbooks hold significant appeal for publishers, but these companies have had a harder time convincing students of electronic texts' benefits. The gulf exists because students have no incentive to hold on to textbooks after they have completed a class. This leads to a massive secondary market for texts that puts money in students' pockets, but leaves textbook publishers unable to sell new copies of their books, according to the Disruptive Competition Project, a think tank. 

Historically, textbook publishers combated this issue by regularly issuing new editions of popular texts with changes that made previous versions outdated. These update made older versions of texts less valuable, and boosted new textbooks sales in the short term. This was an imperfect solution, and publishers welcomed digital textbooks as a comprehensive way to stop the secondary textbook market. 

Digital books can be licensed to users for the length of a course, and they are difficult to transfer to other people's devices. While piracy of electronic goods is a concern, the elimination of used booksellers could provide a huge upside to many educational publishers. Consumers have yet to embrace eBooks in education, however, and it seems the market for physical books remains strong across the board. 

Paper resurges
While electronic book sales have increased, they are not destroying the market for traditional books. In fact, Nielsen's BookScan metric discovered a 2.4 percent increase in paper book sales during 2014. That indicates digital books are likely to coexist alongside their physical brethren for some time. Simultaneously, a shift is necessary in the textbook industry. Despite rising textbook prices, The Wall Street Journal noted that student spending on course materials has declined sharply during the last several years. 

"Paper book sales increased 2.4 percent in 2014."

The solution may not entirely be digital textbooks, but rather books that are customized using digital tools. It's clear that the appetite for physical books remains strong, and publishers and instructors need to cater to customers' desire for paper. The Journal pointed to the massive sales growth for books that instructors can customize for specific courses. These custom texts can be purchased either digitally or physically and are generally cheaper than their standardized counterparts.

Two options
Physical versions of custom books and traditional paper copies of textbooks are still important parts of the publishing industry. The digital revolution is here, but it may not take the form many people thought. Digital and physical texts are likely to coexist for years to come, which means textbook publishers will continue to need the services provided by logistics management.