The purchase and distribution of textbooks, particularly e-books, in the K-12 environment is a more complex process than at the college level.
Most college textbooks are purchased individually. A college student buying an e-book can specify the electronic format best suited to his or her use. Often, each student who purchases an e-book is provided with a unique user name and/or PIN for online access.
Most K-12 textbooks, on the other hand, are purchased by schools for use by multiple students. Printed versions are purchased in whatever quantities are needed, physically shipped, and distributed for student use. While the storage and distribution of printed books is cumbersome, the process of providing books to a school's own students is straight-forward. The process becomes more complex if, as in New York, a public school district is required to "loan" textbooks to its non-public school students.
The procurement and coordination of e-books for K-12 schools, whether for districts or for non-public schools, will be significantly less physically demanding, but is likely to be significantly more information intensive. At the current time, there is little or no standardization among textbook publishers as to such factors as:
- Single vs. multi-user licenses
- Formats supported
- Multiple device policies
- PIN or access code systems
- Access to additional Web resources
- Teacher training and curriculum resources
Textbook Central, which for eleven years has run an extensive program within Nassau County (NY) for the centralized procurement and administration of printed textbooks, is actively working with publishers to develop an equivalent centralized, database-driven, system for e‑books. Until standards emerge, Textbook Central is administering purchases and on-going control of e-books on a case-by-case basis.