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View Poll Results: What is your opinion on e-textbooks?

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  • I HAVE used e-textbooks and liked them.

    3 12.00%
  • I HAVE used e-textbooks and did not like them.

    4 16.00%
  • I HAVE NOT used e-textbooks, but think I would like them.

    6 24.00%
  • I HAVE NOT used e-textbooks, and do not think I would like them.

    8 32.00%
  • I don't care.

    4 16.00%
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Thread: e-Textbooks

  1. #1
    superArti artifice's Avatar
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    e-Textbooks

    Trolling here... with a new semester starting, I wanted to start a discussion about e-textbooks, or online textbooks. I work for a university that is piloting these in a few online classes.

    How it works:
    Flash paper format (you can read, highlight, copy-paste, a screen reader can read it for accessibility purposes.)

    Options:
    1) Your textbook is provided to you online
    - typically costs 50% less than a standard textbook.
    - you can save to your computer for future use, and/or print it.

    2) A textbook is prepared for you consisting of chapters/excerpts defined by the professor from multiple book sources
    - cost is pro-rated accord to how much of each book is used, and costs MUCH less than purchasing multiple books individually
    - again, you can save to your computer and/or print

    Pros/Cons:
    + They're very inexpensive compared to textbooks
    + Allows you to work literally from anywhere you have internet- which is great for online courses.

    - Printing may be an expense/hassle if you want a tangible copy you can mark-up
    - Some people may not like having to read everything on a computer screen.

    Just curious... what you guys think about it?
    Last edited by artifice; 12-31-08 at 10:59 AM.
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    ReMember trsidn's Avatar
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    computer access is useful for specific look-ups, but I find it difficult to read for extended periods.

    My opinion.
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    L T X B O M P F A N S R apricissimus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by artifice View Post
    - you can save to your computer for future use, and/or print it.
    Does this make it possible to get multiple uses by multiple users from one license? (This is something publishers would be very interested in, I think.)

  4. #4
    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    If it's just replicating the printed version of a book, I'll take the printed version. If the use of electronic media allows other features (like related animation/video), then I'd reconsider.

    That said, scientific journal articles online are basically PDF versions of the printed journals, yet I browse almost exclusively online to save myself a daily library trip (and to be ahead of the curve since they usually show up online first). However, for anything I intend to read carefully, I do print it out.
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  5. #5
    Domestic Domestique UnsafeAlpine's Avatar
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    Interesting idea... I'm not sure how I'd feel about it, though. As trsidn said, I have difficulty reading a book format on my computer for extended lengths of time and it would cost more money to print pages off...

  6. #6
    superArti artifice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by apricissimus View Post
    Does this make it possible to get multiple uses by multiple users from one license? (This is something publishers would be very interested in, I think.)
    I'm not sure. We're currently working with one of the worlds top publishers and it's a green light. We are embedding it in Blackboard, but its accessible via a web-link, that doesn't require a login or anything. I'm not sure how (if) they are anticipating handling/monitoring this.

    Quote Originally Posted by jschen View Post
    If it's just replicating the printed version of a book, I'll take the printed version. If the use of electronic media allows other features (like related animation/video), then I'd reconsider.

    That said, scientific journal articles online are basically PDF versions of the printed journals, yet I browse almost exclusively online to save myself a daily library trip (and to be ahead of the curve since they usually show up online first). However, for anything I intend to read carefully, I do print it out.
    Yup, just a digital version of a print book. The advantage is basically cost, and the ability to combine useful sections of many books instead of having to purchase them all, for just a few excerpts.

    Quote Originally Posted by UnsafeAlpine View Post
    Interesting idea... I'm not sure how I'd feel about it, though. As trsidn said, I have difficulty reading a book format on my computer for extended lengths of time and it would cost more money to print pages off...
    Yeah, I'm not really sure how I'd feel about it either. We'll be surveying our students to see if we should expand/abolish it at the end of term- it will be interesting to see how that compares to fooster's opinions.
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  7. #7
    Domestic Domestique UnsafeAlpine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by artifice View Post
    I'm not sure. We're currently working with one of the worlds top publishers and it's a green light. We are embedding it in Blackboard, but its accessible via a web-link, that doesn't require a login or anything. I'm not sure how (if) they are anticipating handling/monitoring this.


    Yup, just a digital version of a print book. The advantage is basically cost, and the ability to combine useful sections of many books instead of having to purchase them all, for just a few excerpts.

    Yeah, I'm not really sure how I'd feel about it either. We'll be surveying our students to see if we should expand/abolish it at the end of term- it will be interesting to see how that compares to fooster's opinions.
    I like the cost idea. Having spent $200 on a textbook that we only used about 1/3 of, cost is a big factor.

  8. #8
    superArti artifice's Avatar
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    Maybe I'm just a HUUUGE slacker, but I haven't needed any of my textbooks since college (nor have I wanted them).

    My undergrad college actually had a library for textbooks where you would check in/out your books at no additional cost...
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  9. #9
    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Why bother if the advantage is mainly cost? [edit: And in particular, cost of printing.] The cost of physically printing a textbook can't be all that expensive compared with all the other costs involved. After all, if a textbook with 385 pages, in full color (not just solid Pantone colors, but pictures and what not) from edge to edge on every page, can be sold for $44 at a profit (proof), then printing costs really can't be all that high for a typical textbook. [edit: I know for a fact that the royalties for the authors on that book are non-zero. So there's room for some royalties, too, though probably not very much.]

    With a digital version, even if one prefers the format, one has to worry about whether that digital version will still be useful decades from now. If it's tied to a specific piece of software (almost has to be if you're going to avoid wholesale copying), then what happens when the day comes where that software is no longer usable on your primary computer? (Sure... virtualization of older systems may offer a solution, but it's a rather clumsy solution, and it's not free.) If the company's no longer supporting that software (for example, if it's gone bankrupt), then what? How many file formats from 20 years ago (never mind 40 years ago) are readily handled on a typical PC today? How many have fallen by the wayside?
    Last edited by jschen; 12-31-08 at 11:40 AM.
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  10. #10
    370H-SSV-0773H linux_author's Avatar
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    have used e-Textbooks for years when teaching - students especially seemed to appreciate that i insisted on coursework not having to depend on expensive books (in fact, i insisted on public-domain or open-source license works, such as those under Creative Commons, etc.)

  11. #11
    superArti artifice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jschen View Post
    Why bother if the advantage is mainly cost? The cost of physically printing a textbook can't be all that expensive compared with all the other costs involved. After all, if a textbook with 385 pages, in full color (not just solid Pantone colors, but pictures and what not) from edge to edge on every page, can be sold for $44 at a profit (proof), then printing costs really can't be all that high for a typical textbook.

    With a digital version, even if one prefers the format, one has to worry about whether that digital version will still be useful decades from now. If it's tied to a specific piece of software (almost has to be if you're going to avoid wholesale copying), then what happens when the day comes where that software is no longer usable on your primary computer? (Sure... virtualization of older systems may offer a solution, but it's a rather clumsy solution, and it's not free.) If the company's no longer supporting that software (for example, if it's gone bankrupt), then what? How many file formats from 20 years ago (never mind 40 years ago) are readily handled on a typical PC today? How many have fallen by the wayside?
    Good thoughts. Yeah, the advantage is basically cost to students. We'll have to see if the format adds or subtracts value, which is/isn't compensated by the lower cost.

    With regard to formats- I'm doubtful someone would save/use it for decades (textbook content would typically change by then anyway). Currently they are in Flash (Adobe), which will continue to be widely supported for many years to come. I'm pushing for PDF so students can digitally mark up (highlight, comment, note, etc) on the pieces.
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  12. #12
    Domestic Domestique UnsafeAlpine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jschen View Post
    Why bother if the advantage is mainly cost? [edit: And in particular, cost of printing.] The cost of physically printing a textbook can't be all that expensive compared with all the other costs involved. After all, if a textbook with 385 pages, in full color (not just solid Pantone colors, but pictures and what not) from edge to edge on every page, can be sold for $44 at a profit (proof), then printing costs really can't be all that high for a typical textbook. [edit: I know for a fact that the royalties for the authors on that book are non-zero. So there's room for some royalties, too, though probably not very much.]

    With a digital version, even if one prefers the format, one has to worry about whether that digital version will still be useful decades from now. If it's tied to a specific piece of software (almost has to be if you're going to avoid wholesale copying), then what happens when the day comes where that software is no longer usable on your primary computer? (Sure... virtualization of older systems may offer a solution, but it's a rather clumsy solution, and it's not free.) If the company's no longer supporting that software (for example, if it's gone bankrupt), then what? How many file formats from 20 years ago (never mind 40 years ago) are readily handled on a typical PC today? How many have fallen by the wayside?
    You do bring up a good point, but I sold back both my bio book and algebra book at the end of the semester. I don't need them, they aren't my focus, and they were 100 level courses anyway. I spent about $300 for both of those books. I could see where the e-books could be a help in that regard. For my major classes, I'd probably still pick up the paper version.

  13. #13
    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UnsafeAlpine View Post
    You do bring up a good point, but I sold back both my bio book and algebra book at the end of the semester. I don't need them, they aren't my focus, and they were 100 level courses anyway. I spent about $300 for both of those books. I could see where the e-books could be a help in that regard. For my major classes, I'd probably still pick up the paper version.
    But how much of that $300 is really printing costs? Wholesale printing of textbooks on huge machines really isn't all that expensive. The aforementioned book is just about the most expensive book to print that there is, using high quality paper and covered from corner to corner in ink/toner/whatever, yet it's only $44. How much of that is printing costs? $20? (I don't know. Just taking a wild guess. But we have to leave room for the royalties for the hundreds of images inside, royalties to the authors, and profit for the reseller and the publisher.) How much does a typical textbook really cost to print then? $5? $10? For a $5 or $10 price differential, would you still pick the electronic version? Can you resell the electronic version? (If not, its value would be even lower.)
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  14. #14
    Domestic Domestique UnsafeAlpine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jschen View Post
    But how much of that $300 is really printing costs? Wholesale printing of textbooks on huge machines really isn't all that expensive. The aforementioned book is just about the most expensive book to print that there is, using high quality paper and covered from corner to corner in ink/toner/whatever, yet it's only $44. How much of that is printing costs? $20? (I don't know. Just taking a wild guess. But we have to leave room for the royalties for the hundreds of images inside, royalties to the authors, and profit for the reseller and the publisher.) How much does a typical textbook really cost to print then? $5? $10? For a $5 or $10 price differential, would you still pick the electronic version? Can you resell the electronic version? (If not, its value would be even lower.)
    Ah..yeah, I'm pickin' up whatcher puttin' down...

    If the books, like arti says, are half the price, I'd be down, but if not, I'd have a much tougher time deciding.

  15. #15
    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by artifice View Post
    2) A textbook is prepared for you consisting of chapters/excerpts defined by the professor from multiple book sources
    - cost is pro-rated accord to how much of each book is used, and costs MUCH less than purchasing multiple books individually
    - again, you can save to your computer and/or print
    When I was an undergrad (1997-2001), this (in printed form) was a very popular option with profs in elective courses, and the Harvard printing department dealt with the process. However, in general, profs picked out the highest quality excerpts (rightfully so), which generally had the highest royalties. While still cheaper than buying all the books, it wasn't unusual for a packet of 400 pages or so to cost over $100. Some profs did make an effort to replace high cost chapters with cheaper alternatives... in one class, my prof's personal translation of the Greek classics was used, royalty-free. That packet was cheap.
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    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UnsafeAlpine View Post
    f the books, like arti says, are half the price, I'd be down, but if not, I'd have a much tougher time deciding.
    Agreed, at least for books I don't intend to reference regularly. I'm just not so sure about the half price target.
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  17. #17
    KombuchaCHIC Shadiyah's Avatar
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    I'm not a big fan of online courses in general. I find that I do much better in an actual class setting with an actual textbook. I don't like to read too much online, I prefer printed words.

  18. #18
    L T X B O M P F A N S R apricissimus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jschen View Post
    When I was an undergrad (1997-2001), this (in printed form) was a very popular option with profs in elective courses, and the Harvard printing department dealt with the process. However, in general, profs picked out the highest quality excerpts (rightfully so), which generally had the highest royalties. While still cheaper than buying all the books, it wasn't unusual for a packet of 400 pages or so to cost over $100. Some profs did make an effort to replace high cost chapters with cheaper alternatives... in one class, my prof's personal translation of the Greek classics was used, royalty-free. That packet was cheap.
    I was an undergrad same years as you. There was this packet sold for a poly sci class, maybe 100 to 150 pages, that cost $270. Not one person bought it (surprise, huh?).

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    L T X B O M P F A N S R apricissimus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadiyah View Post
    I'm not a big fan of online courses in general. I find that I do much better in an actual class setting with an actual textbook. I don't like to read too much online, I prefer printed words.
    My understanding is that these e-textbooks would be used in regular classes too.

  20. #20
    ReMember trsidn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by artifice View Post
    Maybe I'm just a HUUUGE slacker, but I haven't needed any of my textbooks since college (nor have I wanted them).

    My undergrad college actually had a library for textbooks where you would check in/out your books at no additional cost...
    Yeah, that's another thing. I was HORRIBLE at doing reading assignments. With books, even.
    All I ever did was look at the examples (Usually quite useless) and get the problems assigned. (engineering)

    And since they constantly changed editions, I have thousands of dollars in books that I barely looked at, and still don't use.
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    So far, it is not been mentioned that e-textbooks would seem to be a more ecologically sound option to printing, binding and shipping conventional bound textbooks. When I was doing my MBA via distance learning in the 90's, that program still used bound textbooks. I actually scanned portions of my textbooks and saved them as files so I could study them on my laptop while on business trips. They now offer the textbooks online as PDF files.

    Interestingly enough, I still have almost all of my old chemistry, law and MBA textbooks. Sentimental value, I guess.
    Last edited by MillCreek; 12-31-08 at 12:32 PM.
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    KombuchaCHIC Shadiyah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by apricissimus View Post
    My understanding is that these e-textbooks would be used in regular classes too.
    Yes, I've had classes like that as well. Still, I focus much better when I have an actual book in my hands.

  23. #23
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    I dislike e-books very much. For intro courses where students don't care, they will probably work well enough and save money.

    For courses in your major, where you are actually interested in reading, and you need to read closely and often, a real book is preferred. I can read short technical documents on-screen, but for a 300+ page book, paper please. Plus, I am going to need them all the time post-graduation.

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    riding once again jschen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by apricissimus View Post
    I was an undergrad same years as you. There was this packet sold for a poly sci class, maybe 100 to 150 pages, that cost $270. Not one person bought it (surprise, huh?).


    I generally bought books without regard to cost (something about one prof drilling in our heads that it takes only one good idea from a book to justify all the books one buys), but I would have avoided that packet, too.
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    I HATE electronic books. I like the paper, came from the printer, hard cover versions. They're a lot easier to read and deal with. I am happy to pay more for these too.
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