A new study out from a social learning Web site says that digital college textbooks will account for 20% of all textbooks purchased by college students by 2014. That doesn’t change the status quo much for now, but at one price “tipping point” digital textbooks could take over the market.

Here’s the big picture: according to Collegeboard.com, despite the weak economy, U.S. students and their families can expect to pay between $172 to $1,096 more on tuition in 2010 than they did in 2009.

As for college textbooks, the CollegeBoard is also out with some fresh numbers: in 2010, the average college student will spend more than $1,000 on textbooks and school supplies  - that’s up a whopping 40% since 2000.

With these figures in mind, why shouldn’t U.S. collegians take a closer look at digital textbooks? They have a few advantages compared to digital textbooks:

  • They’re cheaper – online versions of college texts can go for 50% of the same hardcover titles, according to Xplana, a social learning analytical firm.
  • Since they’re paperless, digital books are more environmentally friendly.
  • Online college textbooks are more amenable to new technology publishing tools like the (Amazon: Stock Quote: AMZN) Kindle and are coming very soon to the Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL)  iPad.

The drawbacks? There are a few.

Most digital textbooks are tough to transport from one device to another, and aside from the Kindle and the iPad, online textbooks don’t work on a lot of devices. Plus, there is no “standardized” technology platform that accommodates all digital textbooks

Still, college students can expect a larger presence for electronic college texts. Virginia, California and Texas already have or are about approve laws that increase the availability of digital textbooks. California’s law – Senate Bill 48 – requires college textbook publishers offer digital versions of any textbook they produce by the year 2020.

The shift to digital college texts doesn’t mean the venerable college backpack won’t be full – they’ll just be stuffed with more electronic devices and power cords than ever.