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Print on demand textbooks for college students

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On March 18, 2104, the University of Phoenix introduced a print on demand textbook service to students and faculty. Essentially, students can utilize a designated service provider, Edmap, to print digital textbooks for select courses. The service is provided at an additional cost, and is completely optional. The introduction of print on demand services for digital textbooks is not unique to the University of Phoenix, but is a growing trend in higher education to help address the individual needs of students.

Not all digital texts are available for the print on demand service because the publisher determines if the intellectual property can be licensed to use a print on demand service. It is important to understand that a print on demand service requires an approved printing service. Students cannot print the text on their own personal printer.

A print on demand service is not the equivalent of traditionally bound physical textbook. The pages are printed in black and white. For some subjects, the use of color is an important learning construct, particularly with graphics, charts, diagrams, and other labels. When the book is printed, it is also bound with a soft cover.

Some students are perfectly satisfied with digital text, while others sometimes prefer the use of paper texts. The reason many students desire printed textbooks is to support active reading. Active reading is a study strategy most often employed that includes the physical interaction with the text. This includes highlighting, underlining, writing in margins and between lines of text, and other coding schema.

The ability to use active reading strategies with digital text is generally viewed as comparatively inefficient as with paper. The display area of the screen often requires frequent scrolling, which can be distracting. More importantly, the ability to use active reading functions on a computer is often much more cumbersome than with a physical pen or highlighter. It comes down to efficiency and technology transparency. Using paper, the physical gestures are natural and not distracting to the reader. Using a computer, the constant use of buttons, icons, and menus can be intrusive and distracting.

There is “no one size fits all” to recommend one media type over another. It depends on personal preference and the type of subject matter. For schools that are offering digital texts, the additional option for a print on demand service should ideally be part of the program. Forcing students to read digitally if they prefer paper is an unnecessary burden placed on the student. Hopefully, more publishers and schools will support a print on demand option to address the needs of all students.

A significant issue with college textbooks is the cost. A digital version sometimes helps to reduce the cost burden, but not always. The cost of a digital text and a print on demand option may or may not be less expensive than the standard textbook. It just depends on the specific book and how the publisher prices it. Therefore, students and schools need to consider each book individually based on total cost of ownership, subject matter, and personal preferences.