The widespread use of e-readers and tablet computers has revolutionized the way we consume media. Newspapers, magazines, journals, and books are getting swept up in the tidal wave of digitalization. Seemingly the one section of the market that’s lagging behind is textbooks. It seems strange, since college students are the ones who would most benefit from cheaper books that take up less space.
There are many questions to consider before you buy your first e-textbook. I’m going to break them down into a couple categories, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not ebooks are the right choice for you.
1.) Evaluate your habits.
Reading on a screen takes some getting used to, especially if you aren’t using a device with e-ink. Backlit screens, like computers or tablets, can be hard on your eyes (although programs like flux can help in this respect). If you download an e-book to your computer, there’s always the danger of being distracted by the Internet.
You should also take a serious look at how you study best. If, for example, you tend to buy a textbook, then let it sit around the whole quarter, never cracking it open until the night before your final, e-textbooks probably aren’t for you. But if you tend to read most of your assignments on a computer or tablet, or if you don’t do extensive marking in your textbooks, you might want to consider the paperless alternative.
2.) Look at your major and the types of classes you are taking.
If you’re a literature or English major (like me!) and your required readings are books in the public domain, you should definitely look into getting e-textbooks. 1000′s of old texts are offered for free, or you can shell out the extra $2 to get one that’s been nicely formatted with a table of contents. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books, and Project Gutenberg are all places to search for books whose copy right have run out, and are now in the public domain. Check Google Books to see if the books you need for your courses are available in digital format.
But if you’re a science major, you may be out of luck. Some publishers may offer your textbook in e-book format through Amazon, while others may sell it through their own website. Some will give you the option to rent it for cheaper, others will charge the same amount for a digital version of the textbook. Some times you can download a PDF of the book, other times you will have to view the book through a browser or special program.
3.) Decide how you will read e-textbooks.
Let’s say for the sake of argument, you’ve decided that you can handle the switch from paper to e-textbooks, and many of the books that you need are offered as e-books. Now, how are you going to read them?
Once again, there are a vast number of options. If you’re reading this article now, you probably own a computer, so you have one way to read e-books right there. Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony all have free reader apps that you can download to your computer so you can read e-books from their stores. You can also just good old fashioned Adobe Reader for PDFs. You can also use Adobe Digital Editions or Calibre to organize and read your e-texts.
If you have a smart phone, you can download all of these apps to your phone. Most of them have a syncing function, so if you’re reading at home, then have to go to class, you can keep reading on your phone without losing your place. However, given the small screens of most phones, your smart phone shouldn’t be the first place you go to read your books.
If you have a tablet, like an iPad, you can download all of these apps, plus you have access to iBooks, Apple’s ebookstore. They have a fairly good selection of textbooks, and seem to have some interesting ideas for utilizing the interactive nature of the iPad. If you have an Android tablet, you’re out of luck as far as iBooks is concerned, but not to worry, because Amazon, B&N, and many other e-book retailers are more than happy to have your business. Tablets seem like an ideal medium for ebooks: they’re big enough to be able to read comfortably, they have a more diverse array of features and applications, and they are portable, so you can read them at home, in class, or on the go.
Last, but certainly not least, you can read e-textbooks on an e-reader. If you get an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook, it really feels like you are reading a book. The screens aren’t backlit, which means your eyes won’t hate you for staring at a screen all day. The screen is roughly the size of a hard cover book, but they weigh less than a paperback. E-readers are wonderful for their intended purpose, but you should think long and hard before you get one. Some things to consider: initial purchasing cost, multi-functionality, compatible formats, stores or retailers you can purchase e-books from, and e-book pricing.
4.) Use all tools available to you.
If you do decide to use e-books, it’s also important to make full use of the features your platform offers. Bookmarking, highlighting, and note-taking are features that most of these apps offer, and once you learn to use them, they can be extremely helpful for studying.
To recap, its very important that you do your own research, and realistically evaluate how you work and learn. E-textbooks can be a cost and space saving measure for school, or they can be an expensive and frustrating exercise in patience. I have found that for some classes, using my computer or Kindle is an excellent supplement to paper textbooks, particular for long PDFs that professors use for required reading. But every person learns differently, and you should find the best resources to help you succeed.