Pros and Cons of a Physical Textbook and an Ebook

By Brittany Loeffler on January 26, 2020

It’s no secret that college textbooks are expensive. When it comes to buying the physical textbook, students can shell out hundreds of dollars per semester depending on their major and what is required by the professor. Luckily, we have entered a wonderful age of technology where we can have thousands of books right at our fingertips thanks to the Internet and e-readers.

As with everything, there are some pros and cons to using both a physical textbook and the electronic version of a textbook. Here, you’ll find useful information to help you decide which version of the textbook is right for you.

physical textbook

via Pixabay

Physical Textbook

Having a physical textbook is very traditional. You’ll go to the bookstore or order it online and wait for it to arrive then carry it around in your backpack for the entire semester while taking notes and highlighting important passages. Students have always used a physical textbook until recently. They are an old classic that will probably never go out of style, but they do cause some issues, especially for college students who are on a budget.

Pros of Having a Physical Textbook

There is a reason the physical textbook has been around for so many years. It’s because they are reliable and offer students a supplement to their classes.


We may sound contrary, but buying a physical textbook can be affordable. When you buy a physical textbook, most students will have the opportunity to buy it used at a discounted price compared to buying a new version of it. To compare textbook prices and buy your semester’s textbooks, consider using Textsurf.

Sometimes, students can even get it for free if they borrow the textbook from the library or from a friend who has already taken the class and no longer needs the book.

See Your Progress

When reading through a physical textbook, it can be very satisfying to see the progress you’ve made and flipping each page when you have finished reading it. You are also able to look ahead and see exactly how many more pages you have left to read for the day or in that specific chapter.


Having a physical textbook means you can rely on it to always be available to show you the information you need. When you use an electronic version of a textbook, you have to worry about keeping your device charged or else it will die on you and you will no longer have access to your textbook. A physical textbook guarantees that you will never lose battery power and it will always be ready for you to open and start reading.

physical textbook

Infographic by Brittany Loeffler

You Can Resell Them

College students struggle when it comes to finances. So, when the opportunity to make some money comes around, they should take advantage of it! When you buy a physical textbook, you can then sell it to someone else at the end of the semester to make some of the money that you spent on it back. You can do this by putting up a listing on Amazon or eBay, letting your friends know that you are selling it, and posting it in Facebook groups within your university. Not only will you be making some extra cash, but you’ll also be helping another student buy the book at a discounted price.

A Collection to Show

Unlike electronic books, a physical textbook allows you to display it in your bookshelf and show it off to whoever may visit your home. If you are proud of a class that you have taken or want to impress someone with the material you have studied, having a physical textbook makes it much easier.

Cons of Having a Physical Textbook

Buying a physical textbook is slowly going out of style. While it has been used for hundreds of years, there are some downsides to carrying around a heavy book for months.


Depending on the classes you are taking, physical textbooks can be very expensive. Your professor may require you to buy the latest edition, which means you do not have the option to buy it used at a discounted price. These books can cost a few hundred dollars, which is unnecessary if you are only going to use it for just one semester.


Carrying around a physical textbook is no easy feat, especially when they are large and have a hardcover. Most students will have to carry around multiple textbooks every day to their classes, which can cause a lot of strain on your back and shoulders. Not to mention, you’ll have to lug them around not only to class but also to the library whenever you go to study.

Takes Up Space

There is not much space to work with when it comes to living in a college dorm. So, if you have multiple textbooks that are large, they can take up a lot of space, especially when you have a small desk and are trying to get homework done. Where do you put your books when you aren’t using them? Most dorms don’t have enough room for a bookcase. At the end of the semester, you’re still stuck with them in your dorm if you haven’t had a chance to tell them too.

Easy to Forget

While getting ready in the morning after staying up late studying, it’s easy to forget a couple of things on your way to class. One of these things may be the textbook that your professor requires you to bring to each and every class. You’ll have to admit that you forgot it and may even take a toll on your overall grade, depending on the professor. Having a physical textbook means you only have one copy and if you forget it, that’s it.

Locating Information is Hard

A physical textbook may have hundreds and hundreds of pages, which makes it challenging to locate a specific piece of information. Sure, there are indexes, glossaries, and chapters that make it easier to locate information, but you are still spending time flipping through pages trying to remember where that one statistic or paragraph was.

physical textbook

via Pixabay

Electronic Textbook

Electronic books have become more and more popular throughout the years. Not only do they take up much less space, but they are extremely convenient and often are less expensive than buying a physical textbook. They are compact, easy to read, and you can access your electronic book from almost anywhere if you have an Internet connection. Although, just like with having a physical textbook, there are some bad things about using the electronic version of a textbook.

Pros of Having an Electronic Textbook

Electronic textbooks are extremely convenient. Long gone are the days of leaving the house to stand in line at the bookstore just to buy a textbook. You can simply press a button and have almost any book you want right on your e-reader device in seconds.

Environmentally Friendly

Buying the electronic version of a book makes a huge impact on the environment. Just think of how much paper each textbook uses. If everyone in your class bought the electronic version, so many trees would be saved! It’s a much friendlier option to the environment compared to buying the physical textbook because it reduces the carbon footprint required to print the book.

Takes Up Little Space

The beauty of using an e-reader is that you can have thousands of books on just one little device that is smaller than a novel itself. You no longer have to worry about storing your textbooks in a small dorm room because they are all on a little device. When you are studying at a small desk, you won’t have to fight for space between your textbooks, computer, and notebooks. Your backpack will also thank you! Carrying around an e-reader will free up much space and make your backpack much lighter to bring around campus.

Access from Everywhere

Even if you forget your e-reader device at home, you can still access your electronic textbook from your computer or phone. You no longer get to use the excuse that you forgot your textbook at home. As long as you have an Internet connection and another device, you will always be able to access your textbook.


One aspect of an electronic textbook that may be overlooked is that the book display is customizable on an e-reader. If you prefer larger font that is in bold, then you can change the display to your liking. Sometimes, this makes it easier for people to read and retain the information compared to how the book was originally printed.

Less Expensive

Overall, electronic textbooks are less expensive than buying a new copy of a physical textbook. While this is the case, they may not be the cheapest option compared to buying a used textbook. However, there are some books, such as literary classics, that you can download for free, which is great if you are an English major. Just like with a physical textbook, you have to shop around and may be able to find some great deals.

Locating Information is Easy

When you need to look up something quickly in an electronic textbook, you can do so very easily. You can simply type in a word and have your device show you every place it shows up in the textbook. While reading, you can also highlight certain passages and make notes that are then automatically collected together for you to review. You will no longer have to flip through endless pages trying to find what you are looking for.

Cons of Having an Electronic Textbook

It probably sounds like electronic textbooks are the way to go when it comes to buying college textbooks. However, they also have some aspects that are not always the most convenient.

Lose Power

You will only have access to your electronic textbook if your device has battery power. Depending on your device and its age, you may only have a couple of hours to spend reading the book before you have to set it down to charge. Unlike a physical textbook, you are on a time crunch and must make sure your device is always charged.

Devices Can be Expensive

While electronic books typically are less expensive than the physical copies, you still have to put down a good amount of money on an e-reading device. The prices have leveled out over the years, but there are always new devices coming out with new features that make reading more enjoyable. Overall, you will save money on textbooks with e-books, but you’ll have to invest a little before that happens.


Depending on the type of e-reader you have, you may get distracted thanks to the WiFi connection it has. While reading your textbook, you may get a notification that someone mentioned you in a comment on Facebook and you are inclined to check it. Then you get sucked into your newsfeed and it’s all downhill from there.

Cannot Resell or Share

When you buy an electronic version of a textbook, you lose the chance to sell it back to your bookstore or to another student. Once you buy it, it’s yours to keep. So, not only do you not get to make back any of the money that you spent on the book, but you also lose the opportunity to help another student save some money on their next textbook.

Physical Textbook Vs. Electronic Textbook

Depending on the type of classes you are taking and what kind of learner you are, you may already have a preference on which type of textbook you like to use. However, there are some instances where an electronic textbook makes more sense than buying a physical textbook. When it comes down to money, electronic textbooks will help you save more overall. When it comes to reliability, you can always trust that your physical textbook is ready for you to open and read. No matter which version you choose, it’s nice to know that you always have an option when it comes to buying textbooks for school.

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