By Stephanie Brooks

Last month, USA Today reported that a few colleges and universities in the U.S. now require students to purchase e-textbooks instead of traditional textbooks. The USA Today article noted that many of the students attending these colleges are opposed to being obligated to buy e-textbooks. Many of them prefer print textbooks, even though print books tend to be slightly more expensive.

Universities that require students to buy e-textbooks usually do so because of financial incentives, both for the school and for the students. Universities work with digital publishers to get the least expensive textbooks for their students and sometimes receive a cut of whatever those digital publishers make. E-textbook publishers don’t have to pay to print, distribute, or ship their books. So, they don’t mind lowering the prices a little bit.

From a financial standpoint, everyone wins with e-textbooks. However, as previously mentioned, that doesn’t mean college students are actually interested in studying from their e-readers. Today’s college students grew up reading textbooks, and they learned how to read using regular, old print children’s books. Things like smartphones and tablets weren’t the norm until they were in high school or just starting college. They’re used to holding a book in their hands and the feeling of flipping through its pages.

Plus, some experts have suggested that digital books slow readers down and make it more difficult for them to recall information they’ve read. While these differences may not be too noticeable when students read for pleasure, they are likely noticeable when students are reading for school. Not being able to remember a minor character’s name is a lot less frustrating than not being able to remember an important historical detail that you’re going to have to answer questions about on a test.

Still, e-readers do often offer the option to highlight certain parts of text to re-visit them later, and the differences between the experience of reading a regular book and an e-book aren’t painfully noticeable. E-textbooks ultimately mean that students have to pay less for their course materials and have to lug around fewer heavy books.

Despite college students’ current reluctance to embrace electronic textbooks, it’s safe to assume that the tides will change as new generations of students enter college. As iPads and e-readers continue to infiltrate K-12 classrooms, students will become increasingly accustomed to e-textbooks. And as companies like Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble continue to make textbooks and books in general more interactive and engaging, e-textbooks will presumably become the learning tool of choice among students on college campuses in the future.

For right now, however, students should probably be able to choose between print and e-textbooks based on their personal preferences. Since some research suggests that only around 20% of Americans have read e-books of any kind, it seems as though it may be too soon to make e-textbooks mandatory on college campuses.

About the Author: Stephanie Brooks is a freelance writer, essayist, and blogger. She currently professionally writes for and enjoys blogging about education, creativity, and motivation. Stephanie appreciates your comments, questions, and other feedback.


  1. About time to get over this. Screen reading infiltrates the young reader first as TV suggests.
    Text reading is a later acquisition. And current university students are preferring print textbook exactly because they are expert screen readers and realize the learning risks of screen display formats. If e-texts are required students will print them out.

  2. 20% of Americans have read ebooks of any kind- is that including Americans of any age? I would think that the percentage in college age kids would be higher, but we would need to find out how many of them have ever read a book in their spare time first.

    If e-text books were 20-30$ and came with the ability to take handwritten notes right on the page, thus offering a similar experience as a paper book, I am certain that they would have already been accepted everywhere.

  3. The eTextbook market for higher education is “broken” as compared with normal markets. By “broken” I mean that price is relatively unaffected by quantity demanded. Economists call this price inelasticity. That is caused by the fact that the people who select the product (professors) are not the people who pay for the product. This removes price from the decision making process. Students must buy the paper or digital textbook adopted for the courses they are enrolled in.

    College students are generally smarter than average and, so, they see paper as better than digital because paper isn’t going to expire and it can be sold, traded, etc. They are right to balk at these efforts to bilk them.

  4. Buying e-books means you should have a tablet compatible to use it with. The expenses in the long run will still be lesser compared to sticking with traditional textbooks. On the brighter side, you can use the tablet for other important stuff like communication and using the net. Although college students these days are used to reading traditional books, they may yet adjust and perhaps find it more pleasing to use the e-books instead.