Should College Textbooks Go Digital?

February 16, 2015

11:00 pm

As most twenty-somethings toting bachelor’s degrees and a boatload of debt will tell you, going to college is not a cheap undertaking these days.

Source: course, it’s not just the tuition that gets you. After you consider room and board, a beer budget, and some minor clothing expenses, you still have to deal with perhaps the most annoying, and seemingly unfair expense of all: textbooks.

Few manage to make it through four years of courses without being forced to pay hundreds of dollars for a single new edition of a textbook. And even worse is when your professor insists you buy the book and you only end up using it once or not at all.

The Cost of College Textbooks

Not only does it seem unfair, but it also doesn’t seem to make sense. The average US college student spends between $600 and $1200 on textbooks every year.

In this digital age, we carry around much of the world’s collective knowledge and history in our pockets. So why are college students asked to pay thousands of dollars for heavy doorstops that are technologically on par with something out of the Bronze Age? This is especially true in fields like science and economics where the information is changing so often that books can be out-of-date before they even hit the shelves.

The Rise of Digital Textbooks

It seems the publishing world is finally beginning to catch up. We’re seeing more and more textbooks being offered in digital format. An eBook won’t break the bank – or your back – and there’s a good chance a few of them will be available for next semester’s classes.

Many Students Consider Book Rentals

techco - packback
If you are only looking for the cheapest rental possible, a service like Packback could be ideal. Packback offers digital rentals of textbooks, mostly at a price of $5 for a 24-hour period. If you do an hour of reading from your books every night, this probably isn’t the best option for you.

However, Packback is probably the cheapest way to cram. If you find yourself buying a textbook at the beginning of the semester, only to scramble to find it a few days before finals, it might be a wise option for you.

Making the Switch from Paper

Some might be hesitant to make the switch from paper because it won’t be as easy to make notes in an eBook. But most devices capable of displaying eBooks – like Kindles and iPads – allow you take notes while you read. These notes have the advantage of being searchable and can also help with organization, especially when it’s time for finals.

Though some diehard traditionalists may never make their way to a screen to do their academic reading, the market is opening up for those who are ready to save some money and possibly stay a little more organized at the same time.

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Scott Huntington is an entrepreneur, social media expert, and sports fan. Check him out on or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington

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