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…
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