The backpacks of UNC students might get a little lighter, thanks to new technology that will allow them to buy digital textbooks and other electronic bookstore items.
UNC Student Stores is one of only seven college bookstores across the nation that will begin offering the service, which is provided by a spin-off company of the National Association of College Stores.
Movies, video games and trade books should be available for electronic purchase by the end of the month at kiosks in UNC's bookstore, and e-textbooks will be offered in the spring or summer of next year.
Once installed, each kiosk will have a touch screen with a large catalogue of various movies, commercial television series, video games, song titles and eventually e-textbooks. When customers have chosen the items they want, they swipe their credit cards and the machine burns a disc, which pops out after two to three minutes, depending on the amount downloaded.
The system also will offer the option of renting movies. The purchasing process will be the same, but the disc will eventually “self-destruct.”
“I don't think it's like ‘Mission: Impossible' where the tape recorder goes, ‘Poof,' and smoke curls out,” said Charles Schmidt, the director of public relations for the National Association of College Stores. “But the quality of images will degrade after a certain period of time.”
Schmidt said the system will allow colleges and universities to keep up with the demand for digital products.
“It's no secret that digital education is becoming increasingly popular, and we're looking for a way to help college stores compete better in that marketplace,” Schmidt said.
In addition to UNC, six other college bookstores will offer the service, including San Diego State University, the University of Colorado-Boulder and New York University.
“We were looking for innovative, forward-thinking stores, and we needed to use large stores so we would get enough transactions to judge whether the idea is successful,” Schmidt said.
He added that the company initially is offering only entertainment products and holding off on textbooks to ensure the system does not have any glitches.
Erica Eisdorfer, the manager of UNC's Bull's Head bookstore, said the main benefit of the system is the convenience factor.
“It's nice not to have to carry around a book and being able to read it on your computer instead,” Eisdorfer said. “And if the Bull's Head is out of a book, students won't have to wait to get it.”
Bookstores will set their own prices for downloadable content, which will be competitive and possibly cheaper than existing prices.