The popularity of digital books, particularly mainstream novels and non-fiction ebooks for popular ebook readers such as Kindle and Nook, has led to a surge in the availability of textbooks in ebook format. Yet despite the fact that etextbooks can save 50 percent or more off new hardcopy prices, many students have been hesitant to adopt ebooks as course materials. The following examines the pros and cons of etextbooks, and how etextbooks can become more attractive to students, and where students can find the best etextbook prices.
Pros of etextbooks
Etextbooks provide students with a number of benefits that make them more attractive than traditional hardcopy textbooks, including:
• Better prices: students can save 50 percent or more on etextbooks
• Searchable content: students can locate relevant information in a flash, without aimlessly flipping through pages or referencing exhaustive indexes
• Student/teacher interaction: teachers and students can share annotations and other information with a single update
• Less baggage: a portable ereader can hold an entire college career's worth of books – no more lugging around a 50 lb. Backpack
• Convenience: students can download etextbooks and access online textbooks right from their own devices without having to visit the campus bookstore
• Instant delivery: no more waiting and worrying whether a textbook will arrive in time for the semester to begin
• No returns: students do not have to hassle with trying to sell their books at the end of the semester
• Temporary and permanent etextbooks: students can keep a textbook for life, or they can temporarily rent it – sometimes for additional savings
Hardcopy textbooks incur a lot of production overhead, from printing and binding to stocking and delivery. Ebooks eliminate most of these costs, allowing publishers to pass savings on to students. Still, many students have yet to adopt etextbooks as primary course marketing materials.
Cons of etextbooks
Multiple studies have cited several reasons students eschew etextbooks in favor of traditional hardcopy textbooks, including:
• Difficult to memorize: some students say that print textbooks are more effective at encouraging memorization
• Difficult to annotate: Adding notes in the margins, sticky notes to the pages, highlights, and other markers proves to be a cumbersome task in ereaders versus print
• Familiarity: we tend to stick with what we know, and many students – even those who have grown up in the digital age – began learning on print textbooks. They like how print textbooks are more flexible in terms of personal use and idiosyncrasies, where etextbooks are more rigid in presentation
• Distraction avoidance: some students find ereaders distracting, particularly those that feature advanced functions such as Internet browsing, email, apps, and games
• Visual tools: some students feel etextbooks lack the visual tools of print textbooks, such as charts and diagrams, or that their screens are not conducive to understanding the “big picture”
The shifting perception of etextbooks
In order to be viable alternatives and eventually control the textbook market, etextbooks must change the student perception that ereaders are for leisurely reading while print textbooks are for serious academic learning.
The expectation, then, might be that ereader manufacturers and etextbook publishers would partner to address the usability and presentation features demanded by student customers. More flexibility for personal reading preferences, interactive features that encourage memorization, intuitive search, more effective visual tools, and even potential gamification of textbooks are all likely on the horizon.
In addition, as more generations become familiar with digital learning, it's likely they will respond better to etextbooks than their predecessors; in fact, it's possible students of the future will never hold a print textbook.
Moreover, the economy of etextbooks may dictate their future requirement. For example, when colleges agree to ensure that all students enrolled in a given course will purchase the etextbook rather than the print version, publishing companies can offer steeper discounts. Forcing students to purchase ebook textbook editions rather than hardcopy textbooks will also cut down on campus bookstore overhead.
Finally, it's worth noting the potential for Congress to get on the etextbook bandwagon. U.S. taxpayers spend $36.4 billion on PELL Grants (2013) annually, and many students use “leftover funds” from those grants to pay for their textbooks. Thus, the government has a vested interest in reducing fees in order to save a promised program that has come under fire as of late; and it's entirely possible that PELL Grant recipients will be required to purchase etextbooks in the future.
The most notable reason to believe in the future of etextbooks, however, is the fact that textbook publishers and ereader manufacturers are listening. Both highly-competitive markets, it is those companies that adapt to student demand that will not only survive, but prosper. The next generation of ereaders will have to approach development from the student perspective. As etextbooks evolve, demand for them will increase.
Where to find etextbooks
Students seeking to save money on textbook purchases – up to 50 percent or more, which could mean a savings of more than $2,500 over the course of a four-year college career – can utilize the free Direct Textbook etextbook search engine. Direct Textbook searches the most popular and reputable etextbook stores for both online and downloadable ebook editions, then allows students to compare their prices. Direct Textbook also includes etextbook results in its print textbook search, so students can easily compare all of their textbook buying options from a single page.
Direct Textbook searches include the following etextbook stores:
Sony Reader Store
The Sony Reader Store features hundreds of thousands of books, including etextbooks, meant to be read on Sony's Reader devices. Sony also has Reader apps for Android, PC, and Mac.
The Apple iBooks app lets users choose from more than 1.8 million books to download to add to their libraries and access from Apple devices such as the iPad.
Boundless curates textbooks for more than 20 subject areas, then adds in learning activities to make the experience interactive. Boundless books can be accessed from any device, and the company has specific apps for the iPhone and iPad.
Kno features more than 200,000 etextbook titles, which can be accessed via the web, Windows 7 and 8, Android/Google Play, and Apple devices/the App Store.
Amazon Kindle Store
Features more than one million books, intended to be read on Amazon Kindle devices. Kindle titles can also be accessed via mobile apps and the web.
Barnes and Noble
Boasting more than 2.5 million ebooks, Barnes and Noble textbooks can be read via its Nook device, mobile phone apps, PC and Mac apps, and the web.
Google Play Store
The Google Play Store features more than 100,000 digital textbook titles, which can be read on Android devices and the web.
eChapter (Cengage Brain)
If you don't need an entire book, you can opt for eChapters, which can be read on Cengage Brain's online and offline platforms as well as mobile apps.
CourseSmart's offering features 90 percent of all textbooks in use today. Can be read online and on tablets and smartphones, as well as on Android and Apple devices. Can be read offline with certain apps.
Thousands of etextbooks that can be read on mobile devices and with Android and Apple apps.
Should you choose etextbooks?
Etextbooks are likely the future, and early adopters will have a leg up on their fellow students when etextbooks become the norm. However, ereaders and etextbook software is generally easy to grasp, and new technologies won't require a steep learning curve. That being said, the choice – at least for now – is ultimately yours. You're enrolled in college to earn an education, and as such you should try both print textbooks and etextbooks to see which better prepares you for your future.
Either way, Direct Textbook can help you find the best price.