June 16, 2011

University Book Store participates in free eBook pilot program

by Anne Krapfl

The University Book Store in the Memorial Union is participating in a pilot program to test-drive a digital content platform that provides electronic books (eBooks) commonly used in college classrooms -- at no cost to customers. Growing incrementally over the last 15 months, the system now features about 85 titles from more than 35 authors.

In most cases, an author is represented with a single title: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli or Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, for example. Others -- Plato with 23 titles, George Bernard Shaw with 10, or William Shakespeare with five -- have a larger presence.

In just moments, a user can select and download a text, as well as the reader software, Adobe's Digital Editions, for free. Both are accomplished from the store's eBooks website.

Greater flexibility

Unlike other reader systems, in which the format has to match the hardware (think iPad, Kindle, Nook), the eBooks in this program can be downloaded to nearly any type of computer or mobile device.

And unlike other titles in the bookstore's e-textbook program, the books offered through the free pilot contain just the story texts; no study aids, discussion questions or other supplemental learning materials.

"We pride ourselves on having options for our customers, and this provides a flexible, user-friendly option for purchasing books," said Amy DeLashmutt, bookstore marketing manager. She said that the free eBooks don't replace or eliminate the other text options the store offers: new, used and e-text purchases, as well as textbook rentals.

The delivery platform and content management were developed by bookstore employees at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and initially tested at the 22 Canadian university bookstores that are members of the private, jointly owned Canadian Campus Retail Associates Inc. Subsequently, that association offered a larger pilot in the United States to some members of the Independent College Book Store Association, of which University Book Store is a member.

"The most frequent comment we're getting from those who have tried it is how easy it is to use," DeLashmutt said.

And who can argue with free?

"Higher education costs are on everyone's mind. We're trying to help our faculty and students keep costs as low as we can," DeLashmutt said.