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E-readers or Traditional Books: Which Is Better for Education?

Mar 29, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

There’s been a lot of hype about the Kindle and other e-reader products. Recently, Amazon partnered with six universities including Case Western, Pace, and Princeton to provide new students with the devices in the fall 2009 semester. There are definite pluses and minuses to e-readers for leisure reading—but are they really worth the money for college students? Here we’ll go over some of the issues to consider before buying an e-reader and taking all your textbooks digital.


With ordinary e-books and with e-textbooks, the cost tends to be less for the digital book itself—up until recently, with publishers renegotiating prices with Amazon on hardcover titles, you could buy even recent releases online for $9.99—a significant discount over hardcover prices. With e-textbooks, you can also expect discounts. 

CourseSmart, an online e-textbook seller, reports that it typically sells e-textbooks for half the listed price of a hardcopy textbook. Amazon sells e-textbooks at a discount as well, although they may not be as much as 50% off the hardcopy price.

Women with eReader



Still, with some textbooks costing $200 or more, that still means prices that some students would see as unreasonably high—but they’re still better than what you’d find at the college bookstore.

However, you may still be better off buying used textbooks from students who used them last semester, online at a used textbook store, or getting your textbooks at the college library if you really want to save money. An e-reader will cost you upwards of $250 or more in addition to the cost of the books. 


E-readers do have an advantage over hardcopy books when it comes to convenience. With an e-reader, you don’t have to carry heavy books to the park, the kids’ ball games, to coffee shops and libraries, or to work if you want to study out of the house. It’s light and easy to carry. 

Of course, you can’t take your e-reader to the beach or the pool—it’s much more fragile than an ordinary book, and if you break it or lose it, you’ll have to pay more to replace it. Although, in the case of college textbooks, you might not have to pay a lot more.


Generally, the standard Kindle’s screen size isn’t ideal for displaying the complex illustrations and diagrams you typically find in textbooks. But the Kindle DX, introduced in the summer of 2009, offers a 9.7-inch screen specially designed for college textbooks and illustrations. One of its drawbacks? A $500 price tag.


Like with a standard textbook, you can highlight and write notes in the margins on a Kindle. Reviews suggest that typing margin notes using the keyboard can be cumbersome, however. The Kindle also offers some other practical drawbacks. You can’t keep several textbooks open at once, and you can’t lend your textbooks to friends and classmates with a Kindle—unless you want to lend out your entire library.

One thing that could be particularly helpful with the Kindle is its online accessibility. From the device you can surf the Internet, check email, do online research and watch online lectures while you study your textbooks.

Of course, some students mention that they already have a laptop, which offers all the same features they’d get in an e-reader and more, except for some slight added portability—but they don’t seem to see an urgent need for a second device.

The Kindle might be the hottest new thing in publishing, but it’s too early to tell whether it will make significant inroads in the college market. The price tag may be limiting its appeal—many students may find it hard to justify to spend $250 to $300 or even more all at once on a single gadget, even if they’ll see savings in textbooks later—especially when there are already other ways to significantly cut textbook expenditures and they already have a laptop. But if Amazon can find a way to get an e-reader in students’ hands at lower price points, they may become popular enough to render regular textbooks obsolete.


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