Combatting the rising costs of college

GVL / Emily Frye
Sophomore Emily Schroer in the University Bookstore

GVL / Emily Frye Sophomore Emily Schroer in the University Bookstore

Allison Ribick

The decision between a print or online textbook is one that not only students have to make when purchasing them for class, but for professors who are publishing their own textbooks.

For Grand Valley State University statistics professors John Gabrosek and Paul Stephenson, they chose to utilize a new platform that the GVSU bookstore has begun to partner up with – RedShelf.

The company publishes eTextbooks and custom digital material. They first began to work with professors to digitize their course packets. Once they teamed up with publishers, RedShelf was able to offer entire eTextbooks.

“The idea behind it was to get one unified digital platform for all course materials,” said Kyle Uhelski, a sales manager for RedShelf who works directly with the GVSU bookstore. “We’ve partnered with schools now to basically empower those schools to be able to have digital textbook options directly for their students.”

Recently, RedShelf has teamed up with five of the biggest higher education textbook publishers – Macmillan, Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and John Wiley & Sons. RedShelf offers more than 150,000 eBooks and eTextbooks and has partnered with more than 150 university bookstores to offer textbooks online at a lower price compared to print textbooks.

“Grand Valley is an awesome example of what can happen with collaboration between a company like us and the bookstore to hopefully give out more affordable and helpful options to students,” Uhelski said.

Gabrosek came up with the idea of his textbook after working with a student through the student summer scholars program, finding alternative ways to teach topics in STA 215: Introductory Applied Statistics.

Gabrosek used the text as a course packet for many years, getting it published through the GVSU bookstore. After adding onto the course packet to make it into a textbook and wanting to publish it, he got into contact with Tony Glaab, associate manager of the GVSU bookstore, about RedShelf.

“There are companies that do similar things, but I think RedShelf does it better,” Glaab said. “(RedShelf’s) platform sets them apart. And the fact that the cost is very minimal as far what it costs to actually store the data – it’s all cloud-based. I think they were a little ahead of the curve, technologically.”

There were issues in transferring the textbook over to an online format though due to the specialized notation in math and statistics courses, Gabrosek said.

“The disadvantage of working with a start-up (company) is they don’t have all the knowledge that a traditional publisher has,” Gabrosek said. “There are things that they ran into with our book that they hadn’t run into before. If you worked with a publisher who’s been doing it for 100 years, they’ve pretty much seen everything that could possibly happen.”

Gabrosek had originally intended the textbook to be published through traditional means. Once he talked to Glaab, he changed formats.

“It turned out to actually be a positive thing, I think, because it gives us as the authors more control over the content,” Gabrosek said.

The professors found that an advantage to publishing textbooks online is that if they wanted to change homework examples or add new information they could execute the change quicker than if they were to do it through traditional print publishing.

“With digital, your level of customizing and editing and changing things on the fly is really at your hands,” said Katie Callaghan, marketing manager for RedShelf. “This makes it a really attractive feature for professors.”

Stephenson, who co-authored the textbook, liked this feature in particular.

“You could be waiting up to three or four years before you can infuse (new information) into a textbook,” Stephenson said. “With the electronic version, we can infuse it the very next year. Every student that downloads it gets the new edition with the new examples. It allows us to keep the examples more fresh and current.”

Although purchasing online textbooks may be cheaper, more eco-friendly and can be used on any mobile device, people tend to base their decisions on whether to buy it based off of how interactive the text is in an online format.

“When the intent is there from either the content provider or the instructor that this is meant to use interactively, I think folks are fine having a digital copy,” Glaab said. “It’s when (people are) just getting a static PDF, most people would rather have a hard copy.”

RedShelf has organizational, note-taking and annotating tools that helps with the interactive process of using an eTextbook.

The statistics textbook, “Introductory Applied Statistics: A Variable Approach,” costs less than $50 through RedShelf. To purchase the book, students can visit

To learn more about RedShelf, visit