Bill Madl wants to sell e-books.
Too bad nobody's buying.
"We carried four titles last semester and sales were horrible, absolutely horrible," said Madl, textbook manager at Jayhawk Bookstore, 1420 Crescent Road. "The sales were just dismal."
The sluggish sales are reflected this semester at area stores that supply textbooks for students at Kansas, Baker and Haskell Indian Nations universities. None of the stores are stocking dedicated e-titles, although there are a few "bundles" available that pair printed texts with CD-ROMs; KU Bookstores and others offer a handful of e-supplements, which provide access to Web resources and are sold separately from printed texts.
Just how dismal have e-textbook sales been?
Madl managed to peddle 19 e-versions of "Introducing Physical Geography," the No. 1 text nationwide for entry-level geography classes, including Kansas University's course that carried an enrollment of 600 students for the fall semester.
Madl had ordered 50 e-book versions, but found himself pleased that only 20 had arrived on time at the shop at the north end of Naismith Drive. He soon canceled the rest of the order as demand evaporated - despite an e-book price of $52, or half the $104 charged for the printed text.
"Students today were brought up on books - in kindergarten, first grade, second, third and fourth grades. They started to be introduced to computers in grade school, maybe once a week," he said. "When we see the first generation - they're probably going through right now - who are on a computer right now in kindergarten, then we're really going to have to rethink what we're doing. They will not reject it like today's students do."
The e-book product itself also has some hurdles to overcome, Madl said:
¢ Usefulness. While some students enjoy lightening their backpack loads by storing several books on a laptop computer - which can weigh less than a single text - there are other problems: You can't use a pen to highlight passages on an e-page; and books are limited to downloading onto a single computer, making a text placed on a desktop inaccessible to a student visiting a computer lab on campus.
¢ Value. Computer access to an e-book typically lasts for less than a year, and such texts cannot be resold to a bookstore at the end of a semester. The previously mentioned geography book sold new for $104 in the fall, and students received assurances that the bookstore would buy them back for $52 apiece.
Jayhawk Bookstore, KU Bookstores, University Book Shop and Baker University Bookstore in Baldwin may not be stocking any e-texts this semester, but Madl figures that a few more titles will be back on the shelves again this coming fall.
"Our owner (Bill Muggy), he wants to be ahead of the game when the transition starts to occur," Madl said. "But we're not talking about fundamental change in the course of a year. It'll be very slow, very gradual."