When I was in college, I had a marketing textbook that was so heavy and cumbersome our professor told us not to bring it to class. Instead, he had his assistant photocopy pages from the text and distributed them to us each class. If this new study by social learning platform Xplana is to be believed, future college students won't have to deal with such problems because their books will be digital. 

According to Xplana, we've reached the tipping point for e-textbooks, and in five years digital college textbooks will comprise 25% of the overall textbook marketshare. By 2017 they will consume 44% of the market. What's causing this tremendous shift? A number of factors: 

The popularity of Apple’s iPad – Last year’s report was published before the impact of Apple’s iPad could be measured or predicted. The popularity of the device not only drove upward trending in digital content in general, but also introduced new textbook-specific development players such as Inkling into the mix.

Higher-than-expected e-reader sales – In addition, last year’s projections were based on e-reader sales projections of 6 million units across all devices. In actuality, Amazon alone shipped 7.1 million Kindles in 2010 and some have predicted the company will sell as many as 35 million by 2012.

The textbook rental market – Also, we did not factor the rental market into last year’s report and this trend is already having an impact on digital textbooks. We have revised our projections to account for rental.

EPUB 3 – One of the biggest barriers to the growth of digital textbooks at the time we released last year’s report was the lack of any standard that might provide efficiencies of scale in production and distribution to major publishers. The formal release of the EPUB 3 standard in May should provide all the necessary components to allow digital textbooks to overcome previous format obstacles.

OERs and open textbooks – There have also been significant announcements in the last year related to open education resources (OERs) and open textbooks. In particular, several state-specific and institutional initiatives are making OERs and open textbooks an increasingly viable option.

Though the iPad is listed as one of the primary reasons students will be reading e-books in the future, we've seen a number of tablets and gadgets aimed at the educational market, so it's anyone's guess what will win out in the end (the iPad has a pretty good lead, though—just sayin'). But this is good news for students who spend hundreds of dollars each on books. Hopefully this shift will leave some heft in their bank accounts while lightening their backpacks.

[ReadWriteWeb via Xplana]