BOONE, N.C. — Since its launch in 2021, App State’s digital textbook rental system — one of the first of its kind in the nation — has been utilized by 99% of the student population and has saved students over $5 million in the past academic year. The e-book program allows students to download and read textbooks and class materials on their computers, tablets and phones. Approximately 80% of course materials are available through the digital textbook rental system, with the remaining titles available in physical copies.
“It’s a big change to go from books to digital, but we’ve been very successful,” said John Eckman, App State’s associate vice chancellor of campus services. “We are one of the early adopters in the country to go this way, and I’m really proud of our process.”
At the time of its launch, the App State digital textbook program was only the second of its kind in the nation, and App State has influenced other universities and colleges to implement similar programs.
“Now we get calls from other universities on how to run this program and we’re asked to present about it at conferences,” said Eckman. “I think we’re definitely ahead of the curve.”
The most notable benefit of the program is the savings for students, who pay $260 per semester in the 2022–23 academic year to access the digital downloads. Since summer 2022, students participating in the program have saved more than $5 million, according to data from Eckman, which equates to a 34% savings compared with purchasing new books.
Nationwide, the average price of books and supplies for students at both public and private colleges in 2022–23 is $1,240, according to CollegeData.
Students can opt out of the program on a semester-to-semester basis, in the case that a student may not need books for one semester’s classes, or if a student has an internship.
“The simplest way to think about the program is that it’s Spotify for books,” said Eckman. “You pay a flat price, and you may use more books or listen to more music one semester than you do the next semester.”
App State's previous hard copy textbook rental model also charged a flat fee per semester but supported only one book per class. Any additional books had to be purchased separately. Eckman pointed out that in some cases, a single one of those extra books could have cost a student $260.
“What would happen is we had a lot of students who just wouldn’t buy those books,” he said. “They’d borrow books, they wouldn’t have their books on the first day of class — it was a scramble just because it was too expensive and they didn’t want to pay for them. This new price model makes life much easier for everybody, and the fact that all students now have all of their books on day one can only help support their success in the classroom.”
App State University Bookstore Director Pam Walker said that aside from savings, other perks of the program include:
- No more waiting in long lines to rent books — students have access to course materials on the first day of class.
- It lightens a student’s load — no more lugging heavy books around.
- Content can be accessed anywhere, anytime — both online and offline.
Walker said digital books are also compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), with the ability to accommodate screen readers and enlarge fonts.
“It really is a game changer for students,” she said.
App State Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball said e-books are also sustainable, requiring no physical delivery, packing materials or labor, and producing no unnecessary landfill waste. These digital formats result in a reduction of toxic chemicals and air pollution associated with printing textbooks, he added.
“Digital textbooks directly support our universitywide strategic plan,” said Ball. “It supports the priority of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion by providing more equitable access to materials. It also supports the priority to strengthen resilience and sustainability, because digital textbook rentals have a lower carbon footprint.”
An award-winning program
In February, App State won an Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA) award for excellence in course material management for its digital textbook program. University Bookstore Tech Center Manager J.P. Hanson accepted the award on behalf of the bookstore at the ICBA conference.
The award considers sales, turnovers and margins from the past five years, with a focus on pre-COVID versus post-COVID sales.
“Most schools are seeing a decline when comparing these,” said Patrick McGowan, ICBA board member and president of the University Book Store at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “With App State, the response regarding the transition over the years from physical book rental to digital delivery was very compelling.”
In the 2022–23 academic year, the program delivered 80% of course-required books digitally. Walker said that this upcoming fall semester, App State expects to increase this to nearly 90% and will continue adding even more digital titles.
With the current adoption rate of 99% and plans to increase the number of texts available, said Walker, “we are definitely trending in the right direction.”
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About the Division of Finance and Operations
Appalachian State University’s Division of Finance and Operations (formerly known as the Division of Business Affairs) provides effective and efficient stewardship of the university’s financial resources, along with a wide array of services and support for the entire university community, including the maintenance and improvement of App State’s physical environment and infrastructure. This administrative division includes the units of Finance and Administration, Campus Services, Facilities Management and Human Resources, and also oversees the App State Loft in New York City. Learn more at https://businessaffairs.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As a premier public institution, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.