Commentary

Goodbye to the Traditional Textbook?

Are college textbooks expensive? Yes. Are they heavy and annoying to lug around to class everyday? Yes. Should we do away with them? I’m not sure.

Buying books is a hassle. If it’s a new edition of the textbook, then you have to pay the price for a new textbook. If it’s not, then you just have to make sure that you get the correct edition, and if you’re buying a used book, hope that the person who had the book before you was smart. Then there’s selling the book back. When you go to sell your basic history textbook (the one your professor told you that you had to get it, but also the one you never even opened), it will sell for half the price you paid, if you’re lucky.

With all that hassle, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I don’t think, however, that I’m ready to go to a web-based textbook. Yes, it will be cheaper and lighter, but I won’t get to physically touch the book. That sounds like a silly statement, but, as a mathematics education major, I learn much better by jotting notes or diagrams in the margins of my math textbooks. Since I do love working out math problems on paper rather than with technology, I’d say I’m a little more biased towards the hard copy textbook. Also, I’m really not a fan of staring at a computer screen for hours. Not that I’m a fan of staring at a textbook for hours, but if I have to stare at something for hours, I’d rather it be a textbook than a computer screen.

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I’d say Chegg has a decent idea to attack this problem, by renting out textbooks. The cost would be much lower, and it’s a hard copy textbook, but there would be no opportunity to get any cash back at the end of the semester since the only options you would have are to buy the book or return it for free. It solves that financial end of the problem but not the physical effort issue. I can see why going web-based is a good idea, I just don’t know if I’m ready to go there yet.

5 comments about "Goodbye to the Traditional Textbook?".
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  1. Jonathan Graber from Three Pillars Recruiting, September 21, 2009 at 10:11 a.m.

    Certain subjects like math I would agree with you. But say, history, operations management or literature? This is why we have printers. Printing paper (and ink) is much cheaper (if you print selected pieces you might need for a particular class - not the whole textbook). Plus, I won't get burned when publishers decide to make more money by updating from edition 5 to 6 one month before class.

  2. Matt Ellsworth from FLMSC Inc., September 21, 2009 at 10:20 a.m.

    a big expense with text books is also the creation of the material. If you have a book that is only going to sell 5,000 editions, then the author/publisher has to recoop their expenses all from those 5,000 copies.

    When people buy used/share/trade/etc it reduces the number of the books that are printed and thus raising the prices of each copy as the publisher has to get back their fixed costs for the book to have been written in the first place.

    If they take everything digital, then yes the printing/shipping costs can be saved, but the cost for the content is still there.

  3. Frank Dobner from The Startup Source, September 21, 2009 at 10:23 a.m.

    I have always learned better by reading than by listening. Over the many years of my education, though, I find that the notes I make are usually the only things that I will ever really retain in the long run. I believe the long term place for all of education is to focus real learning (what you will remember) as the only thing that needs to be on paper. I have always aimed for retention of the written, but it is the remembered learning that is important for education.

    So much education is dedicated to "learning how to learn." Reading is an essential element to learn how to learn on your own. Kindle may be the first shot in the air on digital reading. I am expecting that this medium will improve in tactile connection with the experience of holding a book and turning pages. Maybe I am expecting too much.

  4. Patrick Aievoli from theCampusCenter.com, LLC, September 21, 2009 at 11 a.m.

    The future of education is online and through the use of new technologies. These e-readers that are coming around are first generation and have a host of usability issues. They are great, however again they are first generation. What you need is a new environment for online learning that utilizes all forms in one place. No jumping around from site to site or device to device and it must all be available 24/7/365 from any web enabled device.
    Please checkout my blog http://patrickaievoli.wordpress.com
    or visit my website
    http://www.theCampusCenter.com/about.php
    And see what I mean.

  5. Maxine Grossman, September 22, 2009 at 1:36 p.m.

    There are some great online comparison shopping sites for textbooks... check out BigWords.com or http://www.campuscompare.com/college-textbooks.

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