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Electronic Textbooks

February 15, 2011

If the publishing world is in turmoil over the changing media markets, then no other publishers are in as much of a tizzy as the textbook publishers.  Their whole strategy, it seems, is based purely on paper books.  I won’t get into the high prices and poor logic of reprints for a few minor changes–that is a whole new topic altogether.  But since I’ve been talking lately about the Kindle and e-readers, my thoughts turned to textbooks.

This semester I’m reading from an anthology for my class.  This thing is easily 2000 pages, probably more, and HEAVY.  Do I want to carry it around?  No.  Does it hurt my back or shoulder (depending on how I’m carrying my supplies, bookbag or messenger bag) to carry an extra 10 pounds?  Yes.  Would it make my life easier if I could read it electronically?  Absolutely.

In my humble opinion, students’ lives would be vastly improved if textbooks moved into the digital world more rapidly.  It is probably inevitable that this change will occur, but will it happen before my back is broken by the weight of all my texts?  Granted, high school textbooks were worse, since I had to carry them 5 days of 7.  Now I don’t have to do that, nor do I necessarily even have to take them to class sometimes.  Still, textbooks present health problems, as multiple studies have already shown, when that much weight is added to a person’s daily walk.  I still get neck pain, even when carrying my books in my bookbag and not a messenger bag.

Now, if I could buy the e-reader version of said textbooks and carry my Kindle to school, that would make my life heavenly.  I can only assume that other students would feel the same.  Electronic versions of these books wouldn’t necessarily even mean the need to buy a Kindle–most Kindle books can be downloaded to a computer and read that way, and most, if not all, college students have a computer of some kind.

But I fear the textbook world is in denial.  For so long these publishers have operated outside the world of logic and done their own merry thing.  They can’t even acknowledge the fact that their prices have skyrocketed beyond what’s reasonable, or that reprints to correct a few minor errors or add in a handful of facts is not a feasible operation.  The chances that this subset of the publishing industry will break into electronic textbooks is almost laughable.

Still, I hold out hope.  Some of my books were offered in electronic format, so I know that I can buy some of the materials I need that way. It would simply be nice, however, if this option became more widely available, and I could save my back some of the weight–and my wallet some of the price gouging!

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