Deciding Between E-Textbooks & Physical Textbooks: Pros and Cons

By Shane Bromfield on December 13, 2017

Purchasing books for your courses in college can become a huge burden financially. The books for all of your courses will amount to hundreds of dollars, books that you will only use a few times over the semester if you need them at all. With the growing popularity of electronic publishing, authors and publishers have moved towards creating e-book versions of traditional textbooks in order to satisfy a new audience of buyers. At first glance e-books seem like a good alternative to physical textbooks, but are they really worth it?




E-books Pros

Less Luggage. E-textbooks are convenient for traveling. Instead of lugging around all of the textbooks for your classes, you can access them from your laptop or mobile device whenever you need them.

No Wait Time. In the olden days, college students waited days to receive their textbooks in the mail. Nowadays books are one click away if you choose to buy an e-textbook.

Useful Features. E-Textbooks can have many useful features such as resizable font, text annotation, and audio readers. This allows users to save time, and multitask. For example, if you are washing dishes, you can turn on the audio reader, and listen to your e-textbook at the same time.

E-books Cons

Cannot be Re-sold. Unlike physical textbooks, e-textbooks cannot be resold. When you purchase an e-textbook, you are purchasing a license to the book, and that license does not give you the right to resell it.

Difficult to Retain Information. Studies have shown that it is difficult to retain the information that we consume when we read e-books, due to the fact that we are not actually touching and interacting with a tangible book. This is especially disadvantageous to a college student who needs to retain information for exams.

Requires Internet Connection. Although an internet connection makes e-textbooks ubiquitous, it also means that we are dependent upon that connection. This can be troublesome for many reasons. While seldom, there may be days when your college’s wireless connection is down, or when the private network at your home is experiencing connectivity issues. There may also be cases where students cannot afford a computer or any variety or combination of factors.

Studying in a Library


Physical Textbooks Pros

Option to Buy Used. If you decide to purchase a physical textbook, you will have the option to buy a used copy of the textbook. Used copies are usually much cheaper than new textbooks, and cheaper than e-textbooks. This is a useful option for students who do not want to spend much on books.

Reselling. Once the semester ends college students usually have no further need for the textbooks they have purchased. In this scenario, books can be resold. I would recommend reselling books directly to other students rather than reselling books to the college bookstore. You will get some of your money back, and you will be able to help a fellow student.

Easier to Retain Information. Interacting with a tangible book makes it easier to retain what you are reading.

Physical Textbooks Cons

Heavy. Although professors do not require students to bring textbooks to class, there will be times when you will want to bring your textbook with you. You may want to bring your textbook to participate in class discussions or bring it with you during your commute in order to study. Carry textbooks that way a few pounds can certainly be a hassle.

Expensive. College textbooks are expensive, with some books costing upwards of three hundred dollars. In some cases, you can buy used, but there will be cases where you will need the latest edition of the book, which will most likely not have any used copies available.

Difficult to Find Information. Going back and searching for specific information in a textbook is common practice. However, this process is much faster with an e-textbook, since the platform that you are viewing the e-textbook on will likely have a search feature.

Ultimately, you should decide for yourself regarding which medium will better fulfill your needs. You may prefer tangible books, or you may want the convenience of being able to access your reading material from any device with an internet connection.

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