The Low-down on Digital Textbooks

Cracking open a textbook may soon be unnecessary for your college student. Digital textbook sales are expected to make up at least 10 percent of the textbook market by 2012. With several start-up companies gaining funding for digital textbook applications, this technology may potentially sweep across campuses and change how your student studies.

Before you add a line to your budget for a $600 iPad, consider the benefits and challenges that digital textbooks could present to your college student in the future:



Some universities will test e-textbooks by providing incoming freshmen with a tablet or iPad. For students who have to buy their own device to access a digital textbook, the $400-700 price tag can be daunting. But the cost of e-books is about half the price of new, printed books, according to the Newsweek article, so the cost savings in the long run is substantial.


With one stroke of the finger (on an iPad’s touchscreen), your student’s course material could come alive with multimedia and interactive features. Inkling, a start-up company that received funding for digital textbook applications, said in a March 2011 article that the course material will “get interesting when the content itself changes and begins to respond to your fingertips.”

For today’s student, who is used to streaming news, virtual social networks and Google homepages that provide their own entertainment beyond search results, digital textbooks will be more comfortable and easy to use than a hard-back book.

Less back pain

If you’ve joined your student in the pursuit of buying textbooks, you know they’re not cheap and they’re not light. With digital textbooks, your student would carry around a two-pound device versus a 30-pound backpack loaded with notebooks and textbooks.



Some e-books are just scanned versions of the textbook. So instead of delving deeper into subject matter with multimedia options, your student would be reading the same exact format as he would in the textbook, without the ability to highlight, dog ear pages or scribble notes in the margin.

Alters studying

If your student learns by marking up his book, color-coding the highlights and visually picturing where certain information is on a specific page, he will have to adjust to digital textbooks. Some applications will provide note-taking capabilities and ways to share notes among classmates, but no matter what methods your student uses, he’ll have to change some of his habits and practices.

Expensive loss

If your student loses a textbook mid-semester, he’s out about $100 and gains the inconvenience of having to borrow from classmates or make copies of chapters. If your student loses his iPad mid-semester, he’s out about $600 for the hardware.

Fortunately, losing the device doesn’t necessarily mean that your student lost all of the information stored on it, if he can access his own back-ups and talk to the e-textbook provider to reload the books on a new device.

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