Advantages and Disadvantages of E-Textbooks Online

By Robby Piels
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In addition to buying hard copies of books when shopping for textbooks online, students also have the option of using e-textbooks. E-textbooks typically contain the same content and layout as hardcopy versions and are made available for web viewing or download to a computer. If a student needs to decide between an actual textbook or its e-textbook cousin, there are a few things that must be considered. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.

The first topic to consider is the physical size of the textbooks. Often times, textbooks are hefty and heavy, and for students taking multiple classes, the hassle of carrying a bunch of heavy books can become troublesome. E-textbooks give students the option of having thousands of textbook pages compressed into an very portable laptop.

Having e-textbooks on a computer also provides other conveniences. For example, many e-textbooks offer search functions, which make searching for specific information a swift and easy process. With a hard copy, you will have to take the time to skim through pages or search the book’s index. Also easily done with e-textbooks is copying, pasting, and highlighting. Taking notes can be a much cleaner process electronically, as opposed to scratching some notes into the margins of a page. Plus, if you need to include a lengthy quote for a research paper, copying and pasting from an e-textbook will save time over typing an entire quote manually. One final convenient feature found in some e-textbooks is the ability to have the e-textbooks converted into an audio file, making it easy to throw on some headphones and learn the material.

E-textbooks are available in two basic flavors. Some e-textbooks are available only while online (material is accessed directly via the internet connection). Others allow you to download the e-textbook to your computer for use while not connected to the internet. Often, access to downloadable e-textbooks is limited to one computer, while online-viewable versions are able to be accessed from any computer.

Purchasing e-textbooks online can be much cheaper than buying textbooks brand new at list price. However, students must understand the constraints that they may be placed under if they choose to use e-textbooks over actual textbooks. First, as mentioned above, many downloadable e-textbooks (such as those offered from popular destinations like CourseSmart.com) are only accessible through one computer. Such digital rights management (DRM) may cause issues if a student’s computer fails or becomes inaccessible. Next, many e-textbooks from major publishers expire after a set period of time, essentially making the e-textbook more of a rental than a purchase. So, while students may save a good percentage over an actual textbook’s MSRP, they could save a similar amount of money by utilizing textbook rentals online services or buying textbooks online and reselling them later.

Overall, the decision to use an e-textbook over an actual textbook boils down to personal preference. If you enjoy having easily searchable electronic versions of textbooks all in one place, and you won’t mind parting with the material after the semester, e-textbooks may be worth looking into. If you would rather not worry about the issues that digital distribution can cause, you may be better off by getting actual textbooks. Check out eCampus (or many of our other reviewed destinations for textbooks online) as they have textbooks and e-textbooks for sale and rent.

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