Digital textbooks have widely been accepted as a foundation for the future of education. There are benefits to using digital textbooks: they’re interactive, they’re lighter and they’re environmentally sound. These benefits are real and difficult to argue with.
The most-hyped factor of digital textbooks, however, is their cost. Many articles claim digital textbooks are affordable alternatives to the campus bookstore. These articles make students believe that digital textbooks are the most affordable learning supplement to date.
This isn’t true. As far as alternatives to the campus bookstore go, digital textbooks are usually among the most costly:
1. Digital textbooks are rentals – you can’t sell them back.
Access to eTexbooks expires after a period of time, typically 180 days. Not only does this eliminate the ability to hold onto the book (if you found the subject matter useful), but the opportunity to resell the book to another student is lost (just like when you rent textbooks). Some digital providers do allow you to print the material – but printing comes at an additional cost, and if you found the entire textbook useful for your future semesters, printing an entire book becomes expensive.
2. There is no used marketplace for digital textbooks.
The price listed will never fall because there is no open market for digital titles. College bookstores and websites such as Amazon and eBay are able to facilitate the sale of used textbooks between students because of supply and demand. When students are finished with a given edition of a physical textbook, the market for that textbook overflows with supply – which drives the cost down until demand catches up. eTextbooks turn the textbook marketplace into a monopoly – students will no longer have a role as price setters. Publishers are well aware of this benefit of the switch to digital.
3. It is more expensive.
It is often more expensive to RENT a digital textbook than it is to BUY that same physical textbook. Let’s take a handful of popular textbooks for sale at two leading eTextbook providers:
How is it that so many reputable news sources (AOL, The New York Times and U.S. News) claim digital textbooks are so inexpensive? Some articles conclude that digital textbooks are inexpensive because they compare the digital textbook price to the full retail price of the same book’s physical print edition and retail is the highest possible price.
eBook costs are rarely ever compared with used textbook prices. The eBook publishers happily compare their products with inflated prices, but consumers rarely actually pay the new price. This isn’t a fair comparison. As shown above, there’s very little reason to go digital in the current market. Often times consumers can purchase (and hold onto, or resell) a book for less than it takes to rent it digitally.
Bottom line: Purchasing physical textbooks is a significantly better value for college students. Not only are they usually cheaper than digital equivalents, but they have resale value. If a student decides to keep their book, there’s no extra cost to do so.
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