British University Students Still Crave Print, Says New BML Study

While the majority of the U.K.’s undergraduate students are now using e-books, none are yet relying on them as a primary source of information. Print continues its hold as a key resource for at least two-thirds of students. That’s one of the key findings of a major new study that explores student information sources in the digital world from the book research experts at BML, a Bowker business. The study was conducted in December 2011 and shows significant change since 2003 when BML conducted similar research.

“This is particularly important research as the higher education sector in the UK undergoes a radical shift, with an increase in student numbers as well as major changes in funding models and the technological landscape,” said Jo Henry, Managing Director of BML Bowker. “Our goal is to enable publishers to stay ahead of trends and make informed business decisions.”

Indeed, the study plots a variety of changes and pace at which they’re occurring. For example, 88 percent of undergraduates still use printed books and lecturer handouts, a decline from 95 percent in 2003. Further, online journals are growing in popularity, with nearly 80 percent of students embracing them, up from 66 percent in 2003.

The study also explores how students are accessing materials. For example, 48 percent of students using printed books obtain them mainly from the library – more than double the amount buying them new or second-hand. Nearly half of those using e-books download them for free, with 38 percent borrowing from the library. Just 9 percent buy ebooks.

The BML Bowker student survey will now run annually, with the results of the 2011 study providing a new benchmark from which to monitor further changes over time. In addition to monitoring student attitudes and behaviours, BML Bowker are currently conducting an international study, the Global eBook Monitor (GEM), in partnership with Pearson, Tata consultancy Services, BISG and AT Kearney, in order to compare and contrast e-book purchasing and growth in countries around the world, including the UK, US, Australia, India, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France and Spain. Results from this will be released in April. Additional contextual information on e-book discovery, buying behaviour and future buying intentions in the UK is being investigated via BML Bowker’s research project, now in its second year, Understanding the Digital Consumer.