Companies offer textbooks without the paper and ink

Students can now purchase or read a textbook without ever touching a printed page.

Two new online textbook services that sell college textbooks for less than the retail price are now available.

Safari X, an online textbook publisher launched in August.

"A Safari X textbook is functionally equivalent to a regular textbook, but it's 50 percent off," said Alison Pendergast, vice president of marketing at the Pearson Technology Group, which runs Safari X along with O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Students can subscribe to a textbook online. The textbook can be accessed from any computer with Internet access, and the student can get a full refund in the first two weeks as long as 20 percent of the book has not been printed or read, Pendergast said.

"We're going to try and bring the textbook to life for students," Pendergast said. Students can make notes and highlight the books, as well as access audio and video files.

The Safari X selection currently has 200 titles from Pearson, which is expected to double by the end of the year, Pendergast said. Pearson publishers make up one out of three textbooks on campuses today. Pendergast said they envision a multi-publisher offering in the future.

Jennifer Libertowski, spokeswoman for the National Association of College Stores, said students think online books are not convenient because they cannot be sold or kept, and unless they are printed out, they can be difficult to use in class.

"We expect to see maybe a few more students use online textbooks," Libertowski said. "But you can't beat the availability and the convenience of regular textbooks."

Another option, the Online Book Exchange, a project of Studio54Design.com Inc., launched Wednesday, according to Marc Gaxiola, president and CEO of the company.

"We know firsthand how kids in college are struggling to pay for books right now," Gaxiola said. "I thought it would be a really good project and it would help the students out."

Through the Online Book Exchange, students can set the prices for their used books and sell them directly.

It is the only service where students can set their own prices, Gaxiola said.

People who want to sell books pay a fee each semester. They pay $3 to sell one to five books, and $5 for six to 10 books, Gaxiola said. For every student that subscribes to the service, the company will donate $1 to that student's university per semester.

"I think we're going to emerge as the pioneers of this, and hopefully we'll stay there," Gaxiola said.

The online offerings for students to save come as a response to rising textbook costs across the country.

"It is something that concerns us, because it makes it difficult for students to have all the textbooks they need," Libertowski said.

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group is part of a group conducting a study on textbook prices, said Kelly Wandtke, board chair. Wandtke said publishers include extras such as DVDs that many professors don't use and new editions are released too often, which raises the price.

"Part of it is that the publishers are in a pretty good position right now because the people ordering the textbooks are not the people buying them," Wandtke said. "What we're doing right now is pricing students out of an education."

Libertowski said students can keep textbook costs down by buying used textbooks and keeping them in good condition to sell back, keeping the receipt to return books and talking to their professors about book choices.

The Online Book Exchange is available at www.onlinebookexchange.com. Safari X is located at www.safarix.com.

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