E-Textbooks Are No Bargain (Yet)


College students saved only $1.00 when purchasing e-textbooks, according to a study by an†English professor and a librarian from Daytona State College (DSC)†and a consultant. Students did indicate that they would try an e-text in the future if the cost was around $35 and appreciated the portability of an e-reader. Instructors found themselves having to devote classroom time to show students how to operate the devices; wi-fi in classrooms was often not sufficient; students found the e-reader’s screens difficult to read and even fatiguing.

The study was conducted for four semesters †and†compared traditional print purchase, print rental, e-textbook rental and e-textbook rental with an e-reader device.

One significance in the DSC study is the demographics of the student population. The authors note that pilot programs attempting widespread adoption of e-texts have been primarily at “private, research-focused, or endowment-supported universities with residential campuses and traditional-age, mostly full-time undergraduates,” including Princeton University, Arizona State University, the University of Virginia, Case Western University, Reed College and Pace University. In contrast, all the students at DSC are commuters who have significant preexisting commitments, like working full- or part-time jobs and caring for children and other family members; many students’ studies are “frequently interrupted by a change in job status.” For these students, being able to purchase textbooks was cited as a factor in continuing their studies and even graduating.

Students singled out mathematics as a topic that they would not choose to use an e-text for:

Nearly all participants noted that using an e-text for this subject was not an option; they would pay more for a printed text in which they could solve math problems by hand. Students simply could not imagine e-text features and tools that would allow them to work mathematics problems with greater speed, efficiency, and convenience than old-fashioned paper and pencil.

I teach Latin and ancient Greek to students with similar backgrounds as those at DSC. My college is a four-year college but we have a fair number of transfer students and many students have to take time off for various reasons (often family-related or, as one student said to me, “no money”). While I still have many of the books I bought in college, many of my students sell their books back to the bookstore as soon as they take their finals and are careful not to mark them up (which is unfortunate, as doing so would help their absorption of the material). Wi-fi is often spotty in our classrooms and, while every student has a cell phone, only a small percentage have an e-reader device.

I have been giving students the option of using a “real” textbook an e-textbook for my Latin classes. I’ve been using the e-text myself and, while I definitely appreciate the convenience, only being able to see one or two pages that are next to each other at once is an issue. Students learning Latin often need to refer to several different parts of the book (a page with a Latin sentence to translate, grammatical paradigms, vocabulary) so the e-textbook is actually less helpful than a paper copy. Because our textbook is widely used, it is not difficult for students to find a used copy online and, because Latin grammar doesn’t change, students could just as well use an older version of the text, bought at a lower price.

E-books definitely seem the wave of the future. I’m hopeful that technology will be developed so it is possible to look at different parts of a book as quickly as you can turn a page. Having all of one’s textbooks on one e-device does seem attractive — and having only one e-device means less to remember to pack in your backpack.


Related Care2 Coverage

E-book Borrowing: Publishers and Libraries Disagree

E-Books or Paper Books: Which Is Best For Kids?

7 Out of 10 College Students Donít Buy Textbooks


Photo by Ed Yourdon


W. C
W. C2 months ago


William C
William C2 months ago

Thank you.

jayasri amma
jayasri amma6 years ago


Kiera H.
Kiera Hoffman6 years ago

When I tried the Nook textbooks a few years ago they wouldn't even work on the Nook! And that wasn't a fluke, I didn't have one, and I asked if they would. Apparently, despite the name, they were not in a compatible format. On top of this, when I tried to use these books on the computer after downloading the program for free and having already purchased the books, I put in the code to redeem the books and was asked for my credit card number. I like books, but I like reading books on my android phone too. But the textbooks were soooooo not worth the effort.

6 years ago

I'm in school right now, in my forties and back in college studying Biochemistry. My textbooks for Organic Chemistry, a required course were 317.00 for the lecture book, and 289.00 for the lab work text. I bought previous editions, used, of the requisite books online and at a distinct savings. The old edition of the lecture book cost me 7.00 and the lab text cost me 23.00. I f you are in school, ask your professor if you can use an older edition. The information and format are frequently identical. Shop online for your text books. The cost of the E-books was for in excess of what I paid for old used physical texts. The E-books also had a limited period of availability. They would have been taken away from me at the end of the semester. E books also don't seem to beget the same organization techniques that a physical book will let you use, flipping to indexes, and charts, etc.

My four cents.....

John Mansky
John Mansky6 years ago

When we come of age to limit energy,in the NOT too distant future,you will have 1-paper book,1-teacher and 1-class. I-pads and Computers will be only antiquated articles, shown in reference to a different age. Then we can all think of the good old days!..

Jamie Clemons
Jamie C6 years ago

college text books are way too expensive.

Lisa L.
Lisa L6 years ago

Andrew C.--your argument is completely incorrect. Books may be made of trees, but they are also biodegradable. I hate electronic trash, and we are all generating tons of it. So many humans, so much plastic, and every inch of it hideous and here for the duration. It disgusts me what we are doing to our planet in the name of technology. Maybe if we'd actually read more of those books we would not have gotten ourselves into this fix.

Cathryn C.
Cathryn C6 years ago

E-readers and laptops BOTH support downloading the book to your drive. Wi-Fi is not needed once the download has been done. Text size can be adjusted on both devices easily. No eye strain.

Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, the student is not working on getting a hernia carrying around heavy tomes, is less likely to go to the student bookstore and be unable to FIND the book needed because it is sold out and can easily bookmark, underline or make notes without defacing or having to search a book later page by page. Now why the books continue to cost so much when you can have 100-500 students downloading it saving he company shipping, printing and remainder costs..I have no clue.

Sheri K.
Sheri K6 years ago

I like reading books...sorry they are made from trees, but some are from recycled materials. I would rather have the book in hand for school verses an electronic version of any kind. I went to school online for an associates degree in web design and this course is too hard to just use e-reading of any kind. You need to refer back to several pages of text and graphics before completing a assignment. Not to mention comparisons, building blocks for each page and many other things. Math is way to hard to do in college without a text book to refer to. You have to work every problem out step-by-step and show your work. Books are for learning, a must to growing the brain cells, a vital material for children though adulthood. Plus if the whole world turns to electronic everything to read, there will be more people out there with eye strain and neck problems. I say keep the paper books especially if they are from recycled materials.