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eTextbooks Overview

Digital, or etextbooks, are the newest and increasingly popular textbook option. Nearly one-third of Americans own a tablet, as do 25 percent of college students, and more than three-quarters of the country's population possesses a desktop or laptop.

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Chances are that by the time rising freshmen graduate, most coursework will be available in electronic format. Textbook publishers are thrilled because ebooks cost far less to produce and can't be resold or shared with friends.

Indeed, enthusiasm about college textbooks and interactive learning tools accessible through mobile devices, desktop, and laptops seems like a no brainer. For one, think of all the trees you're saving. Also, getting hold of etextbooks is stress-free compared to the headaches associated with the back-and-forth shipping of print copies. At the moment, however, there are countless titles that have yet to be digitized and many etextbooks currently available are nothing more than static PDFs.

The most technologically advanced etextbooks, developed jointly by etextbook vendors and book publishers, boast the type of interactive and media-rich features that tech-loving students expect. Aside from the swiping, searching, highlighting, and note-writing functionalities common across the board, special effects and study aids vary by vendor. Enhancements range from quizzes, embedded links, audio and video, and 3D imaging to real-time views of other students' notes and highlights, knowledge-sharing with friends, homework help, cutting and pasting to a journal, creating flashcards, and so on. For example, the Inkling.com app for The Art of Public Speaking (11th edition) by Stephen E. Lucas includes videos of both famous speeches and student speeches.

Etextbooks must be accessed through an app, or ereader platform, that's free but also vendor specific, at least for now. Kno.com has an app for the iPad and Facebook and is optimized for Firefox and Google Chrome browsers. CourseSmart.com's app is suitable for iPad and Android devices and Firefox, Safari, and Chrome browsers. The Inkling.com app works on iPads and Chrome and Safari browsers. Barnes & Noble etextbooks download to Macs or PCs (you need the Nook Study app), and Amazon digital textbooks require either a Kindle Fire or a Kindle app that can be used on an iPad, PC or Mac, Blackberry, and Android devices. Chegg.com has a new app that is compatible with Explorer 9, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. With some apps, you can study offline; Barnes & Noble etextbooks reside in your computer so you have access regardless and Chegg.com's app works with connected devices only.

As with hard copies, you also must decide whether to rent or buy an etextbook. Kno.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon let you do either; CourseSmart.com is rental only; and Inkling.com is buy only, although you can buy as many chapters as you need. Etextbook rentals often run for 180 days (up to 360 days through Amazon), and usually can be rented again or upgraded to a purchase.

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Whether there's a price advantage to buying or renting an etextbook compared to a print copy obviously depends on the book as well as the online vendors' prices. An etextbook still might not be much of a deal, but if you crave the electronic bells and whistles, go for it.

Textbook Prices by CampusBooks.com

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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