The Future of the Print Book

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
7 0 4,293

I am approaching my third year working with Macmillan Higher Ed, and nearing my fourth month in my new role as the digital solution specialist in the sciences. In my new role, I work with instructors around the country as a support role for our digital learning tools and assist with trainings, demonstrations, and basic pedagogical support. Prior to this role, I worked as the local sales representative in Oregon and one question that comes up with an overwhelming frequency in both of my roles in publishing has been regarding the future of the printed book.  With the rise of digital tools, e-books, and the abundance of online learning systems, where does that leave the future of the printed book?


In one 10-minute online survey conducted by Hewlett Packard at the San Jose State University (SJSU), students’ were polled about their preferences on textbook format.  527 students were involved in this survey and asked to give their opinions on the traditional print book versus the more and more common ebook.  Of the 527 respondents (of which two-thirds reported having used both e-textbooks and printed textbooks),  57% reported preferring print books, 21% preferring e-books , and 21% stated that they prefer both formats.  Surprisingly, of those that prefer print books, 62% are in the 18- to 35-year-old bracket with Education and Library & Information Science students preferring the printed text more than other majors, including Business and Science.

                With the rising popularity of social media, and web based apps, why do students seem to prefer the printed book over the e-text in this booming digital age? 54% of students cited “ease of use” as being the reason they prefer the printed book, 35% cited “note-taking ability” as their reason, while 11% cited “physical feel of book” as selling point of the print book. Of the students who preferred the e-books, 34% cited “light weight”, 23% cited “convenient access”, 16%  cited “search function” , while 15%  cited “Cost” as being the reason they prefer the e-book over the traditional print book.

With the preference seeming to lie with the printed book, just how much are students willing to pay for that option? 24% of the respondents are willing to pay $10 more for the printed version while 31% are content to pay $20 extra. Another 12% are willing to pay $40 more (at $120) for the printed version. The results of this survey seem to indicate that students prefer a book that is convenient, easy to use, allows them to take notes, and that is light weight and feels like a physical book

While students seem to indicate that they prefer a physical textbook, there is evidence suggesting that digital tools can improve educational outcomes. In a first-year engineering-mechanics course at University of New South Wales in Australia, dropout rates fell to 14 percent from 31 percent after adaptive digital tutorials were introduced in the classroom. Pass rates in other entry-level courses have also risen by the addition of these online materials by an average of 18 percent at Arizona State University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, according to data that we compiled from university websites, Knewton and Smart Sparrow.


With the disparity between the student preference for a print book, and the clear benefit of digital tools in the classroom, publishers have the lofty role of creating a product that benefits everyone. The role of the publisher lies in creating and promoting an affordable and dynamic, digital-learning resources that can bridge the gap between the desire for the print book and the value of the digital tools. Many publishers have already begun creating adaptive exercises, digital texts with interactive e-books, activities, and videos that give students the ability to access not just their text, but a number of materials to foster active learning.

One such product that we promote at Macmillan Higher Ed, Learning Curve, is an adaptive quizzing platform that is designed to prepare students for lecture and by encouraging them to read their textbook with a question in mind. We polled students on their experience with Learning Curve, and found that over 90% found it to be beneficial and helped them manage their study time, and over 90% found it to be a motivating tool that was deeply engaging. Surprisingly, over half of the students polled used learning curve even when it wasn’t assigned.


Trying to answer the question about the future of textbooks is no easy task. It is a constantly moving and evolving market, and the role of the publisher is to listen and respond to the ever-changing needs of the markets. There doesn’t seem to be an upcoming extinction of the printed book, but I do see the market changing and developing new and more robust tools to accompany the print book and support students in a wider and more robust way