Etextbooks, a.k.a. digital textbooks, hold great appeal. Aside from the environmental benefits, obtaining and disposing of an etextbook is a breeze, especially when compared with the headaches associated with buying/selling/renting/returning print copies. Moreover, there's no anxiety about defacing a book that's destined for the return bin. And let's not forget how easy it is to carry.
Digital versions of textbooks are not available for every title or course, but their popularity is growing among students, authors, publishers, and book vendors. In 2013 Reuters reported that during the previous year more than 27 percent of the money spent on textbooks went towards digital formats. Although the news article also stated that 77 percent of students polled said they prefer print versions, that's a hard stance to take against the money-saving opportunities inherent in etextbooks. Digitized books often cost much less than hard copies. The purchase and rental prices of the three titles we researched came to no more than half as much as the price of a new print copy. That said, some used print copies may be cheaper than the cost of buying a digital copy or renting one for a long time.
Electronic readers and apps are loading up with features to make the transition to digital easier for students who value the ability to flip through physical books in search of a reference or to take notes in the margins. Highlighting and note-writing directly in the text are standard functionalities already, as are search and print (the latter may be limited to a certain percent of the content). Some etextbooks also have collaborative note-taking capabilities, allowing students to create virtual study groups, share notes and highlights, and ask each other questions. Some also incorporate videos and interactive material into the text and offer additional online study aids, such as in-depth explanations to quiz answers. The digital platforms are vendor- and/or publisher-specific and free to download or access through a browser or an app.
For some electronic titles students can choose between buying and renting. Etextbook rentals often run for 180 days, but shorter or longer periods sometimes are available. And, they usually can be rented again or upgraded to a purchase. Renting a digital textbook is an ideal solution for students who procrastinate or forget about deadlines. The rented etextbook simply appears immediately after payment and disappears at the end of the rental period -- no worrying about receiving the rented physical book in time for class or forgetting to return it and being hit with overdue fees.
Etextbooks are available from a variety of sources, the most well-known being Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CourseSmart, Kno, Chegg, and Inkling. Others, including two on our list -- Skyo and eCampus.com -- also offer etextbooks for sale or rent. In fact, only two of the five textbook websites we researched have yet to enter the digital textbooks market.
Before making a buy or arranging a rental, though, check that the digital version you're looking at is compatible with the devices you own. Most can be used universally on computers, tablets, and smartphones, but it's always best to double check.