University of Texas officials say they hope to relieve the high cost of student textbooks with a high-tech experiment–offering electronic textbooks–that they say could fundamentally change the industry, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Tentatively dubbed the e-book initiative, UT will pay for electronic copies of textbooks for students in certain classes, starting in the spring. The initiative treats the e-books, which students can download onto their computers, like software, for which UT pays a licensing fee. Initially, students in those classes will use the e-books for free. If the program–which campus and industry officials say has been tried at other schools–is successful, students would pay $25 to $40 a book in licensing fees. "Because of the cost of books, 20 percent of students can’t or won’t buy the text," said Kevin Hegarty, UT’s vice president and chief financial officer. Courses in chemistry, biochemistry, marketing, and accounting will use e-textbooks in the pilot program, which could cost $300,000 to $400,000 for an academic year and would include about 1,000 students during the 2009-10 school year, Hegarty said. "If we can improve this model and get enough professors and publishers interested, we can drive textbook costs down to half … what the average student spends on printed textbooks," he said. If it catches on, the initiative also could prompt revisions in how the textbook industry does business, said UT accounting professor Michael Granof…

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