Tablets vs. textbooks: e-textbooks are not necessarily as cost-effective as expected

KATIE FLOOD
The Cord (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Textbooks make the best iPad stands.

WATERLOO (CUP) — “I’m really just looking at it to read books and share pictures, I guess — and maybe textbooks, hopefully textbooks,” said Klara Raic, justifying her purchase of an expensive, but increasingly popular piece of technology: the tablet.

The Wilfrid Laurier University second-year business student bought the Lenovo a1 tablet during boxing week sales for $200. While she hopes to use her new tablet for storing photographs and portable internet access, like many other students who have purchased tablets and e-readers, Raic was motivated by hopes of saving money on textbooks.

“This semester, I don’t have any more textbooks that I can buy online … but in the future, I would definitely continue using it and putting my books on here,” explained Raic.

While tablets and e-readers undoubtedly offer an advantage for avoiding the lines on campus to buy new and second-hand books — typically ranging from $200-$500 — are they worth the investment?

Raic thinks so.

“I’m thinking of just getting the online code and using this as my textbook and not spending the extra $120 dollars on the textbook itself … which is half of the price of this [tablet],” she said.

The second-year student explained her theory that after buying one or two e-textbooks online instead of in print, the cost of the tablet is likely made up in money saved.

While e-textbooks save money in the short term, Laurier’s Bookstore manager of academic material Mika Zybala pointed out that e-textbooks are usually a rental service, through which students miss out on resale value of the book.

“We’re seeing that bit of divide because general book reading is definitely moving in the e-book direction, where the traditional textbook is more in that access code, so it’s a short term access … you do not own that e-book,” said Zybala, explaining that students do not save as much money with e-textbooks as they would expect.

Coursesmart.com offers a first-year cultural anthropology textbook for $44.98 compared to the Bookstore’s price of $108.75, but the e-textbook can only be rented for 180 days.

“You’re not able to sell that material back to the store at the end of the semester, so that’s really where the biggest difference is,” he said.

When asked which she would buy from if books from a second-hand book fair and an e-textbook resource were priced the same, second-year student Vanessa Frey agreed that there is an advantage to buying print books. “[Second-hand] resale value, you can still sell it back for thirty bucks.”

But with the iPad 3 rumoured to be released in upcoming months, tablet popularity is increasing despite the fact that e-textbooks do not save as much money as students expect.

“We’ve definitely seen some strong sales through the tablet … there’s definitely a lot more interest in a tablet than the traditional desktop,” said Zybala, referring to the bookstore’s technology sales.

“On a personal level, yeah I wouldn’t mind a tablet for convenience of everything, for Internet access, for being able to access email … I think they’re becoming a bit more of a useful tool that can be used in multiple aspects,” said Zybala, who bought the Kobo e-reader last year.

Despite the trouble with tablets saving students money on textbooks, Zybala predicts that like Raic, students will continue to use the multipurpose e-textbooks because of convenience and the Bookstore will need to adapt in order to survive.

“It will definitely have an impact on our business,” Zybala said.

“I think [the tablet] has its place and I still think that the printed book will have its place as well. I think, in general, it’s all about choice.”


Photo: samweber/Flickr

  • http://twitter.com/Pruzy Martin

    The resale value of textbooks never tends to be that high in the first place, so I’m all for going digital

  • http://twitter.com/broomgrass Catherine Nygren

    I didn’t buy any print books this term, just used all digital texts. Mind you, novels tend to be easier to find than traditional textbooks.

    As far as resale value, half the textbooks I’ve ever bought can’t be resold for more than a few dollars, even online, because they’re not being used the following year or have been replaced by a newer edition.

    The pirated ebook market will only grow as students move towards using more digital texts.

  • Brad Johnson

    Resale value isn’t much of an argument, since honest e-textbook services charge you significantly less than a physical textbook (less production cost, no transport cost).

    eg: I paid $65 to rent a textbook for the year which would otherwise cost $150 used. I think I came out ahead.

  • Tim Broyles

    Unless of course you get them for free. I started downloading my textbooks from http://bookboon.com/ and have to say I`ve saved quite a solid amount of cash over a 2-year stretch. I think that`s the way etextbooks should be, free yet legal and without compromising the quality of the educational information.