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Dec 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Despite declarations of their deaths many times over, it looks like textbooks are here to stay. Here's why we think textbooks aren't going anywhere anytime soon, despite fierce competition from the digital world.

Quickest answer? Textbooks make money. Lots of it. According to Statista, textbooks in the US are part of an $11 billion industry -- that's an increase from $8 billion in 2014.

How is that possible when it seems like nearly everything is digitized? It costs about $1 million to produce one new textbook. Publishers connect professors with contributors, experts, graphic designers, and instructors. They are collaborative in ways that OERs (open educational resources) are not. 

While some textbook companies face losses when students rent or buy used texts, they can -- and do -- still compete.

Here's why textbooks will likely remain a part of the higher education landscape.

1. They're interactive study aids

Confused? Well, they're not as evolved as tablets and online books, but they are not passive, either.

Look at those questions at the end of each chapter. If you actually take the time to answer them, you can engage with a textbook in just as dynamic ways as you can digitally, sometimes even more so.

For an active learner, you can read a chapter, look at the questions and then take your time answering the questions. Use the book to answer the questions -- or go digital and look up ideas for answers.

Another beautiful thing about them is that you can highlight text, dog-ear pages, and leave sticky notes with ideas and questions as you go. They're physical and visceral, and so lend themselves to interaction and personalization. 

2. They help facilitate independent learning

Of the many skills you need to practice to make it after you graduate, independent learning tops the list. That's right: thinking, asking questions, and finding answers -- on your own. Easier said than done.

How do textbooks facilitate independent learning? Start with this concept: you can't expect to pick up a textbook, read it, and understand everything on the first go-round. While some folks can, they're few and far between. If you're one of them, great! If you're not, read on.

One thing smart people do? While they know a lot of stuff, they know how to learn a lot of stuff. There's a difference.

When you read and interact with a textbook, you practice how to learn. Make those notes on post-its and highlight that text. Take notes on the stuff you don't understand. Go back and re-read the chapter. Get outside help if you need it. Believe it or not, those are skills crucial to your life's success.

3. The alternatives compete but don't threaten 

As digital options proliferate, the textbook industry is evolving. Some textbook publishers have started "custom publishing" textbooks for specific professors and courses. These books have shorter publication cycles and a limited rental market.

Other companies have embraced the digital landscape and offer accompanying digital tools to their textbooks, but only with new copies. This requires students to buy them.

While the rental and used textbook markets add a layer of competition to the already saturated digital market, as long as textbook companies continue to adapt as they have, they will continue to have a place in colleges and universities.

4. They're reusable

Yup. You can use textbooks for other things when you're done with them. Sure, you can sell them back, but you can also use them in clever ways.

Fastweb offers some fun ideas, like a book safe. Take that old edition of that textbook that you can't resell and hide your prized possessions in it. 

If you have lots of texts that you aren't using, pile them up to make a bookshelf! Or stack a bunch and make a table lamp base, or even use them as book bookends.

Instead of charging your chargeables at sterile-looking docking stations, consider a book-charging station. 

Refashion them into scrapbooks, journals, a book of picture frames, or even an art portfolio.

The options are endless!

What do you think of textbooks now?

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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