Electronic Textbooks – Are they really better?

Two different sources came across my view screen this morning that dealt with college bookstores selling electronic textbooks. According to the Chronicle article (which requires registration, see citation at the end), the student buys a card which is used to download the book onto a single computer. It must stay on that computer, is only accessible for five months, and can not be printed all at once. I see some things wrong with this scheme.

  • Not all students own a computer and many use the computer lab as their only computer access. A book that can only be downloaded onto one computer would not be usable by these students, unless their university has profiles in which they could download something that large.
  • The books, which cost 33% less than a regular book, are not owned, but rented. That means no money back when you sell them, but given the paltry amount you get for reselling textbooks, this about negates the 33% cost difference.
  • Even if a book can only be printed one page at a time, students will still sit at a terminal for 2 hours and print the entire book out on paper. I see them doing that every day at MPOW. Some sites allow buyers to print the entire book at once so we often see print jobs of over 200 pages from textbook sites. These we promptly cancel and ask them to break it up into short chunks.

I am unsure how I feel about electronic textbooks. I think if the book could be on some sort of portable device, like a flash drive, it would be more useful to the students. Only being able to download a book onto one computer would make it hard to transport that book around unless you printed out all the pages. At that point, you might as well have spent your money on the book that is portable instead of using up your print allotment in the computer lab.

–Jane, could read a book on a flash drive on the reference desk

Foster, Andrea L. “Digital Textbook Pilot Project Begins This Month in 10 College Bookstores.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Tuesday, August 9, 2005. Accessed from http://chronicle.com/prm/daily/2005/08/2005080901t.htm.