Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ebooks vs. Textbooks

By Sean Scarpiello

Around this time of the year, thousands of college students are beginning to order their books for the fall semester. Books are not cheap and most students will end up paying between $400 and $700 just for this next semester. Four years of this spending really adds up quickly. These days, advances in technology have introduced students to eBooks. These “electronic books” are simply the same version of physical textbooks but are accessed on a laptop, tablet, or a kindle. How do these new eBooks compare to the heavy, old fashioned textbooks?

Initially, students will compare the prices of each of the books. It turns out that there is never a definitive cheaper price for either of the two. However, some eBooks are cheaper than the real text books. Students can save around 10% to 15% on some eBooks. Some may compare the discount of buying an eBook with that of buying a used textbook. Other eBooks cost about the same as a regular textbook. For the most part, eBooks cost just as much, if not less than regular textbooks. In order to take advantage of the savings, students must do their own research to find the best deals.

This being said, that does not make eBooks the best choice when it comes to buying books for college. There are a few drawbacks to eBooks. First off, you need a device to hold and display the eBook; this means the student must own a laptop, tablet, or kindle. This is probably not a problem for most students because they have a laptop for college anyway and they can keep their eBooks there. However, if a student’s laptop is broken, stolen, or lost, then the student cannot access any of the books needed for classes. Another con of eBooks is that they may not be the best choice if a student needs to use the book in a class or lab. Many professors would not be comfortable with a computer or tablet out during a lab where the computer or lab apparatus may be harmed. Also, some students can study best if they can take notes right in their books.

Amid all of these cons of eBooks, there still are some pros, other than being a cheaper option. Students will not have to wait for books to be delivered nor will they need to pick them up because the eBook will instantly be downloaded and ready for use. Also, students can avoid having to carry around a backpack full of heavy textbooks for class. As long as students have their laptop or other electronic devices on hand, they have all the books they need for class.

The physical textbooks do still have some benefits. For one, they can be sold back at the end of the semester for cash from the bookstore at most colleges. Students do not get all of their money back, but they do get some spending money which can come in handy around campus. There is also less of a dependence on technology with textbooks. A lot of college students find out the hard way that technology can fail when it’s needed most. One last factor that can make or break textbooks for students is that they are easy to read. Some people feel like their eyes are fried from looking at a computer screen for hours upon hours. Using a laptop or tablet may or may not leave students with the same feeling.

In all, eBooks are occasionally cheaper than physical textbooks and students need to do their own research to see which books they can get the best deals on. Other than that, both eBooks and textbooks have pros and cons and it really comes down to student preference.

1 comment:

Matt Larson said...

In my own experience, ebooks have the added functionality of presenting the material in a multimedia format. Often, these ebooks will have links or offer video that can be directly accessed from the ebook itself, offering the student the advantage of learning through multiple modalities. In addition, simple programs that can be downloaded on tablets like iPads allow the student to directly annotate their thoughts and notes right in the ebook.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have had students in the past with various forms of dyslexia. These students often have greater difficulty reading the material because of the higher contrast laptops and iPads provide. With these students, I have found that they prefer the original textbook and having a colored overlay such as orange or blue that doesn't have the great contrast that black and white text has. Of course, depending on the device, the student may be able to adjust the brightness/contrast on the screen, but changing the white background to a color would be more difficult to do.