Bookstore offers free digital books

Since its launch Wednesday, 50 books have been downloaded.
Katie Prince / Graphic Designer

University Bookstore began offering access to digital versions of more than 200 books on its Web site for free Wednesday.

The bookstore expanded its digital textbook program last summer, but the books usually cost the same or less than a print textbook.

Works in the public domain by authors, ranging from Plato to Dostoyevsky, are available for download as part of a pilot program with the National Association of College Stores and Canadian Campus Retail Association.

The bookstore, which had been looking into offering more digital options to customers, saw the program as an opportunity to gauge interest in electronic books among MU students, University Bookstore spokeswoman Michelle Froese said.

"Publishers are trying to figure out how to digitize their materials and still be compensated for it," Froese said. "Bookstores need to be relevant to the interests of their consumers, and I think you see an alliance with technology to make that happen."

The books, which are downloaded onto and then read on computers, might not seem ideal to some, but they appeal to an audience interested in having their books on the go, Froese said.

"Right now, the books that you're able to download from the Web site, you're reading them on the computer screen," Froese said. "I think it can be challenging, but I think it depends on the preferences of the user."

Froese said the bookstore has seen a rapid rise in the demand for digital books due to the popularity of electronic book readers that have triggered an increase in the public's interest in non-traditional formats, such as Amazon’s Kindle.

"Between August of 2009 and January 2010, we had 360 digital titles available, and 1,700 books were downloaded," Froese said. "Between August 2008 and January (2009), 212 digital titles were available, and 95 were downloaded. That shows student interest in purchasing digital books is growing."

The bookstore's expansion into the digital realm includes an increased focus on offering digital textbooks, Froese said.

"We've had some success with carrying digital textbooks," Froese said. "Though most faculty haven't specifically requested for the bookstore to carry digital, our goal is to carry digital options whenever possible."

Freshman Emily Giffin, who was required to use digital textbooks for journalism and theater courses, said having a book available only on the computer had its shortcomings.

"I definitely prefer normal textbooks," Giffin said. "I like to have a book in front of me, highlight — all that good stuff. If I actually had the option of a hardback, I probably would have picked that."

Junior David Stevens said less expensive digital books would be appealing alternatives to standard versions.

"If the digital books were discounted, I'd definitely be interested," Stevens said. "It uses less paper, and it's less stuff to carry around, so I don't really see a downside to it."

Although the books have not been available for long, bookstore officials are closely monitoring the popularity of the program in order to plan for a wider catalogue of digital works, Froese said.

"We're interested in customer usage right now," Froese said. "Since going live last Wednesday, 50 titles have been downloaded. That's not a huge number, but hopefully we can start to offer more digital content through the University Bookstore Web site."

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