Any college student knows that textbooks are an important part of any semester. Most professors will assign at least one textbook for the course, and it is often a new or recent edition of the book. The textbooks can be very heavy and expensive, adding a physical and financial burden for students. As the age of computers, smartphones, and e-readers continues to progress, digital textbooks have become more common and widely used in post-secondary education. This option can be more convenient for some students. But which is the better option overall? This can depend on many different factors and situations.
There are many advantages to traditional print textbooks. Because this is still the most common form of textbook, they are available in nearly every bookstore. It is often very easy to find current and recent editions of any textbook that is assigned. You also don't need any other device in order to read and use the textbooks. There are also a variety of ways to purchase traditional textbooks. They can be purchased in the campus store, some local bookstores, or you can buy textbooks online. Printed textbooks allow you to highlight, take notes in the margin, or markup the book in any way that works for you. When the semester is over and the books are no longer need, you can sell used textbooks through the bookstore or online.
Conversely, print textbooks can be incredibly expensive, especially when professors require new editions that are not yet able to be found used. Physical textbooks are also very heavy to lug around, especially when you have several classes to attend in one day. If you write in the textbook extensively, it can be difficult to sell used textbooks for a decent price. These books can also be difficult to sift through and find specific information.
E-textbooks are a much more portable form of a textbook, especially for students who walk long distances to class or attend several courses back to back during the day. Several e-textbooks can be stored and accessed on the same tablet, smartphone or e-reader, making it easy to pack your backpack for your classes or to head to the library. Digital textbooks can be highlighted, flagged, or marked up with notes. These texts can also be either rented or purchased, typically costing less than traditional print textbooks.
While there are many advantages to digital textbooks, e-textbooks fall short in several areas. These books often cannot be resold, as the digital copies are not transferrable. Some publishers may also limit the ability to print and copy the textbook pages, which can be problematic if you are in need of a hard copy for studying. E-textbooks also require a specific device in order to access them. While most students own tablets or smartphones, this can be prohibitive for some individuals.
Traditional print textbooks are the most expensive option, especially when they are purchased new. E-textbooks cost about half as much as print textbooks to purchase outright and could be even less expensive if you rent. If you do not already have an e-reader or compatible device, though, this may be an extra incurred expense. Print textbooks can be the least expensive option when they are purchased used and then resold when finished. However, it can be difficult to know exactly how much money can be regained when you sell used textbooks, as the amount of writing and markups can affect the price. This can make it hard to decide which form of the book is right for your monetary needs.
Ease of Use
Both e-textbooks and traditional printed versions are fairly easy to use. Printed textbooks allow you to browse for information and mark important sections more readily and noticeably. The features of e-textbooks can quickly take you to a bookmarked section, however, and allow you to find a key term or concept quickly with a search function. Since you can access the textbook on different devices, you can reduce the number of books and devices that you need to carry back and forth to classes or to the library. E-textbooks do require a certain level of understanding of and comfort with the programs that allow you to read and interact with books digitally in order to make these versions accessible to you.
Other Things to Consider
When deciding between a print textbook or e-textbook, you may want to consider how easy the versions will be to purchase initially and store over time. For the traditional print versions, it is easy to buy textbooks online or in the campus store. With e-textbooks, it may be harder to track down the correct edition of each textbook that you need for the semester. Additionally, e-textbooks could be harder to hold onto for many years. As the digital platforms for e-readers change and evolve, your textbook may eventually become inaccessible. While print textbooks take up a significant amount of space and can be heavy, they are a reliable version of the information that can be kept for as long as you want.
Print textbooks and e-textbooks both have their advantages for the modern college student. Though e-textbooks have significant appeal for those familiar with digital platforms, the traditional printed textbook still holds its place in the classroom. The decision to buy textbooks online or download a digital copy depends on you and what best meets your individual needs.