09 June 2010

E-Books: Revolutionizing the College Experience

This is a guest posting from Thomas Warren from the frontline of American campus life--Bookride is always interested in Ebook usage (know your enemy) and we are glad to hear that real books are still used and loved...take it away Thomas...

Amazon Kindle. Sony Reader. Barnes and Noble Nook. Apple iPad. The list of e-readers currently available on the market goes on and on, each offering various options like touch screens, text-to-speech, web browsers, and more. Beyond the hardware lies a dizzying array of books to be had at the speed of download, from current fiction faves like Stieg Larson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to literary classics like Homer’s Iliad. And college students have begun to realize the true potential of these easy access devices.

Textbooks are expensive. At a state school, students can spend almost half the amount of their tuition on the texts they need for class (especially if it just so happens that the professor has written four or five books, all of them required reading). Textbooks are also heavy. The average college student carries around anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds of books in their bag, leading to poor posture, fatigue, and even injury. And this is where e-books come in.

They are often less expensive than buying a textbook new. As a random example, Applied Chemistry: A Textbook for Engineers and Technologists (by H.D. Gesser) costs about $120 for the Kindle version, while buying the book new on Amazon will run about $170 (although it should be noted , it can be had used for around $90). Still, this is a savings of $50, no small amount for most students, and they can have it now instead of paying shipping charges and waiting for it to arrive (meanwhile missing their first week of assignments). In addition, Amazon alone offers over 6,000 textbooks for the Kindle. For students, this equates to one easy haul as the Kindle weighs less than one pound (both slimmer and lighter than an average paperback). It also offers student-friendly features like highlighting, the ability to add notes, and a dictionary function. And with Kindle in particular, there is no charge for wireless access (most others come with Wi-Fi). Buyers could pay anywhere from $200-$800 for an e-reader, but considering most students spend upwards of $500 on books each semester, this price tag doesn’t seem so hefty (especially when the long-term savings are factored in). Finally, students interested in an eco-friendly option will enjoy the fact that all of their books are paper-free (despite the fact that they’re using electricity to charge the darn thing…which is worse?).

So what’s the downside? For one thing, students used to returning their wares to the campus bookstore for cash back will be unable to capitalize at the end of the semester (although for the pittance that is offered, they’ll probably do better with what they save on buying the e-book version). In addition, they may suffer from less tangible effects. Books carry with them a weight that is entirely separate from their physical bulk. There is something comforting in the feel of a book that simply doesn’t translate into a lightweight plastic casing. Books are meant to be held. They show the wear of many readings. They carry their own special history. They can be loaned. They can be passed on through generations. They can be loved.

In the long run, the benefits of e-books for a typical student seem to outweigh the disadvantages. The convenience cannot be overstated. However, for long-time fans of books, the return to paper is inevitable. There is simply no substitute for Dad’s worn, torn, and bent copy of Moby Dick, or the scribbled-in collection of fairy tales that Mom read to you as a child. These books hold a certain nostalgia that no electronic device can mimic or replace and while college students may turn to e-books as a way to make their secondary education a bit more manageable, true book lovers will always come back.

[Thomas Warren is a content writer for Go College, one of the oldest and most trusted resources to guide students on how to finance and succeed in college.]

Thanks Thomas. Wise and timely words from one embedded in campus life. I have heard that Kindle are having a hard time in the lucrative text book field--it's down to the way that people interact with textbooks--they 'use' them rather than read them and the paper book is more suitable for this (albeit more expensive.) One student from Princeton called the device a "poor excuse of an academic tool" in a recent Daily Princetonian interview. One wonders whether there is a class divide with these machines--with preppy Ivy league types swanning around with Ipads in Louis Vuitton leather cases ($350 just for the LV case, Ipads currently retail at about $600) and slackers at Bend University, Oregon with scratched Kindles they have lowballed on Ebay ($91 for a generation 1). Last word, beware off fake Kindles--they work for a while but the battery won't hold a charge properly or they overheat and can even melt…


Selwyn Image said...

Good to hear this. You are right about lousy prices offered from campus bookstores. Best plan is to put them on Amazon--easy to do. Also old DVDs go well thither.

Anonymous said...

E book readers will be the outlet for no name authors an nothing more. Also, the ebook downloads that Amazon was bragging about thi past Christmas time (ie the press coverage) left one simple fact out. 9 out of the top 10 downloads were free books, dickens etc.

Anonymous said...

Textbooks in e-book form are the gateway drug for the next generation---i.e., books in electronic form will soon be the default and printed books the novelty. Once so established, the physical connection to books and book collecting will be severed and the ever diminishing client base for rare and antiquarian titles will accelerate in its rate of loss. Book collectors are going the way of record collectors, becoming a marginalized subset of social oddballs and dirty-jeaned eccentrics. That old cliche about books being a 500 year old technology that will be around another 500 years is off by about 480 years.

Anonymous said...

"One wonders whether there is a class divide with these machines" -
you're on the wrong side of the pond Old Chap! There is nothing more egalitarian than technology. Don't they teach that in English public school quite?

Anonymous said...

The birth of the e-book doesn't necessarily lead to the death of the paper book. Isn't this the same logic that supposedly dictated that no-one would look at paintings after the invention of the photograph, no-one would look at photographs after the invention of cinema, no-one would go to the cinema after the invention of television, and no-one would watch television after the internet took off. One new technology doesn't necessarily lead to the death of the other - as tech geeks (whose jeans are usually dirtier than any collector) are so fond of predicting. No doubt there will be major changes in publishing, but I don't see the need for this technological millenarianism.. People will still collect books, just as they still collect paintings.

Edwin Moore said...

Agree with last anonymous - a book has never been just a book even when there were no printed texts - apart from the great libraries of the ancient world academocs and intellectuals want to hoard and private collectors need stuff to show off - certainly Trimalchio at least is always with us and will save the book as expensive object, and (more importantly) it's never been as easy to make or get books as it is now.

NB: as the Sunday Times points out today Apple seems to be on an extreme censorship drive, censoring a cartoon version of Ulysses for its itablet - some things never change and may get worse, much worse.

Anonymous said...

A student can't re-sell a kindle download.

frugality said...

Bezos -- not a pretty sight! But thanks for this.

Fnarf said...

As a moderately dissatisfied Kindle owner, I can tell you for certain that textbooks are the LAST thing they're good for. The only thing that really works on a Kindle is straight-forward narrative. It is very good at popular fiction, particularly genre stuff like romances, mysteries, and sci-fi. For technical or reference material it is UTTERLY WORTHLESS.

There are no page numbers, for starters, rendering the index in the back useless. Yes, you can highlight, but it's a deeply annoying process. The image resolution is godawful, so any text with charts and graphs just doesn't work at all -- there's simply no way that a student could realistically use that Applied Chemistry example book on a Kindle in a real-world class. And perhaps worst of all for a textbook, it's extremely difficult to flip forward and back in large gulps -- in reference books and textbooks, it is customary to have a spatial sense of where the C's are, or what chapter that section on conjugating the preterite was. On a Kindle, forget it; you could spend all day trying to find a specific spot. The search function is total garbage.

Where the Kindle shines is airplane reading. Textbooks? They've got a long ways to go.

khairy said...