How do eTextbooks work and should I use them?By Team RakeThru - Jan 2012
E-Texbooks represent a relatively new option for students. They typically weigh much less than their physical counterparts and can cost substantially less as well. These are both important benefits that might make them very attractive. However there are also important differences between 'e' and physical textbooks in both consistency, and ease, of use.
Physical textbooks are consistent. They have a cover with a few pages in between, and that's about it. They are also very flexible - you can use them anywhere and highlight them in a wide variety of ways. The publisher, the store you buy from, or country of origin generally don't affect the experience of actually reading the textbook. Sadly, the eTextbook market currently lacks this consistency and flexibility.
As of now, nothing is standardized about eTextbooks. Each company that produces them allows access to materials in certain ways - some through web browsers, some through programs on a mac or pc, some only through apps on tablets. Likewise note-taking and highlighting technologies vary from eTextbook to eTextbook creating different experiences as you move from one technology to another. To complicate matters further, some companies 'rent' eTextbooks, which means your login to their site will expire, or the eTextbook file will lock up on your laptop/tablet and you wont be able to read it again when the rental period ends.
Even with these concerns, the benefits of eTextbooks may still make them a good choice for your study. Here is a checklist to help navigate your purchase/renting decision:
Consider the physical way you will use to access your eTextbook
Etextbooks may be digital, but at the end of the day you still have to read them in a physical way. Studying for class is much more involved than leisure reading which makes this physical medium a very important issue. Consider the following questions - what ways are you comfortable reading course material? Will you be effective in your studies if you can only access materials while connected to the internet (which means no reading in a sunny, but wifi-less, park)? Do you prefer to access them on a laptop, a tablet/ereader, or both? Do you want to access them from multiple devices or will having access on only one device meet your needs? How do you approach note-taking? Do you need to highlight pages or make notes in margins to be effective?
There is no aftermarket for eTextbooks. You can't sell them to other students. Are you comfortable paying full price for materials that that you can never get cash back from? If renting, are you also comfortable knowing that you will only have access for a limited time? Finally, if you find a company with a user-experience that works for you, are you willing to pay a premium over other ebooks for that experience?
Making a choice:
Once you have a good sense of what will meet your needs in the above areas, you should be in a good position to examine the offers from the different companies to see if one matches. That's it! We hope this helps you make some sense of the current market as you jump into this semester. Good luck!