Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Digital Textbooks for College?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the lifting-the-load-out-of-your-backpack dept.

Books 73

doggkruse asks: "I recently purchased textbooks for the current semester in college only to end up with an empty wallet and a sore back. I have been looking into digital textbooks so that I will not have to lug around the real ones any more. I have found one site that seems to offer a very limited number of digital books. Does anyone know of a more complete solution. Especially one that works with Mac OS X. As laptops in classes are becoming more prolific, I think it is time to ditch the paper and save my wallet."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Is the cost really for the paper? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089075)

Are college books expensive because of the actual printing of the book or because of the value of the information (real or imagined)?

Though, saving your back is still a great idea!

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

SoCalChris (573049) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089505)

The cost is probably to line the author's pockets. I took an Anthropology class a few years ago, where in addition to buying the $60 textbook the teacher had written, you had to buy a $40 "workbook" that he had written.

The workbook was a stack of about 20 pages that had been copied and stapled together. Of course, all of the assignments were pages from the workbook that you had to write on, then tear out and turn in so you had to buy the stupid thing.

Each page of the workbook was on average a question or two, followed by a lot of blank space to write your answer in. And the pages were all printed on light blue paper, so you couldn't copy them, and the teacher only accepted sheets from the original book.


Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089520)

My required college biology class used a textbook that was co-written by the professor. His royalty on each book sold was $3. One day after class he had us all line up as he handed each student $3 to refund that royalty.

Pretty darn cool.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091148)

My alma mater (University of Iowa) required that the royalty from textbooks written by the same professor teaching the class went to the department, and not to the professor.

Didn't keep professor A from assigning professor B's textbooks, and then B did the same for A; but at least it slowed down the graft. Whether or not that practice is any more evil than invading a country and then skimming the grants for the rebuilding of same is left for followup posters; in the best light, I suppose you could call it "good practice for the real world."

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091360)

You are wrong. The UofI requires an author who uses his own textbook to refund his royalties directly to the students. Many teachers hand out cash on the first day of class.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

kommakazi (610098) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091840)

nah, you didn't have to, just borrow someone else's on the first day of class and photocopy it. I have one 'textbook' that is also a bunch of pages together but thankfully it was only $12 so I din't have to resort to such extreme measures.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7090563)

Are college books expensive because of the actual printing of the book or because of the value of the information (real or imagined)?

I doubt the main cost is the paper. Based on my experience, the cost of a book varies inversely with its thickness - I've bought 200-page books for $160, and 1200-page books for $100.

The exception was course workbooks, which consist of 10-40 pages (chosen by the professor, often photocopies from books) spiral-bound together. Those were always cheap, around $10 or less.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (2, Interesting)

flabbergast (620919) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090765)

Think about how small a market college textbooks compose. For instance, my undergrad CS program used 5 different books for 5 concurrent semesters of OS. (mostly because they switched from Java to C++ to C). Now, I realize most people would cry "The bastards! I can't use a book from last year!" but what I'm trying to point out is just the volume of textbooks available for an intro to OS class. So, even if 40 of your classmates buy a book for a semester, (and that's a fairly large class), times that by perhaps 100 different unversities that may use this textbook at $100 a pop, that's only $400,000. While that may seem a lot of money, after recuperating printing fees, editor fees, etc etc and the advance, there's not much left. And 100 different universities using this book is a stretch if there are plenty of books available. On the flipside, I'm sure Deitel and Deitel have made mad cash on Intro to C++/Java/C# etc...etc. Or even better, what about my African Storyteller professor who wrote the book we studied? how small a market is that? I'd bet pretty small.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091005)

In any decent-sized niche of the textbook market, there are probably a few books that hit a home run, but there are a lot more that don't turn much of a profit. For instance, in calculus-based physics you have Halliday/Resnick/Walker with a huge share of the market, and then all the rest.

While that may seem a lot of money, after recuperating printing fees, editor fees, etc etc and the advance, there's not much left.
Yes and no. The devil is all in the details. Basically when you print a book, all the costs are setup costs, and then after that the incremental cost of printing one more book is extremely low (probably less than a dollar even for a fancy color textbook). Also you have to realize that the cost of printing is proportional to the number of colors of ink. A full-color book (cyan-magenta-yellow-black) therefore costs four times as much to print as a black and white book.

As for advances, I don't think it's a common practice in the world of college textbooks, but I could be wrong. In any case, most textbooks (again, with the exception of a few home-run titles) bring in so little money for their authors that they could have probably made a better hourly wage by working at Burger King.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

flabbergast (620919) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091376)

Yeah, I'd agree that there wouldn't be an advance unless they were an established player with previous blockbuster books. I notice you put Halliday/et al, yet both in HS (non-calc) and college (calc from intro through modern) we used Serway et. al.

Re:Is the cost really for the paper? (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090969)

Are college books expensive because of the actual printing of the book or because of the value of the information (real or imagined)?
Paper, printing, and binding are usually only a very small percentage of the total cost. The only statistics I've seen specifically for textbooks are for upper-division physics texts, which are usually hardcover, black and white with line art: the retail price is typically $80-120, of which only about $5-10 is accounted for by paper, printing, and binding.

A lot of the high price of textbooks is because of built-in inefficiencies in the way textbooks are marketed and distributed. For instance, bookstores can return unsold copies to the publisher, and the publisher often just throws them in a dumpster rather than selling them. Another example of their inefficiency is that as a professor, I'm always getting unsolicied review copies of books in the mail, none of which I'm interested in. Also, they come out with a new edition of the texts every 2-3 years or so, for the sole purpose of killing off the used book market.

Wish I had an answr, but I don't (2, Insightful)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089105)

I just wanted to say that I want more e-publications out there. I used to balk at the idea of paying for information. But the truth is that the convenience of not having a paper thing to throw away later is growing more and more attractive. Just email me a .PDF version of the mag. If I want to read it in the bathroom, I'll just copy it to my PocketPC.

Should schoolbooks be the same way? You bet! You tend to get spoiled by the find command.

Re:Wish I had an answr, but I don't (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089543)

Dude, I just bring the iBook when I have to take a shit. WiFi rocks.

Re:Wish I had an answr, but I don't (1)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089718)

This is exactly the same way I feel. For me, it was once about getting the information for free, but after actually being very close to paper-free (sans text books and the occasional prof who won't let me submit something electronically) for a few years, the convenience and advantages go much further.

I've been taking all of my notes on a PDA of one kind or another for four years. This is a ton more useful and convenient than paper notes. Like an electronic text book, you can search your notes, which is awesome for studying. Considering that only the nuttiest study-freak would keep any sort of usable index for their notes, I have a huge advantage here. And since I've always taken my notes using word-based handwriting recognition, I get all of the supposed memory-based benefits of actually putting my pen to paper, which typing notes apparently wouldn't generate. (Although, I can't say how true those classic learning theory statements are though.)

In some of my classes, we don't have text books per se, relying instead on primary literature. Journal articles and the like are a lot easier to get in an electronic form, it's a lot more common. I've yet to find a single text book I need for a class in any electronic format, but never print off those journal articles I need for class, even for discussions.

Give me a PDF, HTML+Images, anything. While I think it would make sense for the ebook version of a textbook to be cheaper than the paper version, I'd probably be willing to pay full price. After all, I'm already wasting all of that damned money, and I'd much rather have it electronically.

As a friend once said: "Because you can't grep a dead tree."

Re:Wish I had an answr, but I don't (1)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091162)

I've wanted to have digital reference material for years, and haven't yet found a solution that was ubiquitous. And I don't mean fiction. Advantages: portability, storage, and searchability. I don't mind reading LCDs. And even if the price was the same as the dead-tree version, so be it--those advantage pay for it.

However, what no one has figured out yet is how to offer those advantages but still attach DRM such that I can't buy one book and then share it with the rest of the class. And as soon as you add DRM, well, you have to give the DRM-makers a cut, distribution becomes it's own painful channel, you need proprietary readers, etc.

I would pay right now to have DRM-protected PDFs of my favorite manuals--in fact, I wouldn't buy another dead tree manual, and carrying around yet another 600 pages has kept me from buying quite a few. But nobody has gotten it yet. Adobe, you listening? DRM enabled Acrobat Reader to accept but not copy "No copy" bit enabled PDFs is exactly what I would like. Oh, and scans of the manuals that I have into said PDF format.

Until then, screw it. I'll just get the same info online, from free or subscription websites.

comfortable? (1)

mOoZik (698544) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089106)

The question is, are you comfortable with reading hours upon hours from your laptop? Just staring at that screen? I suppose if you don't work with computers regularly, you may find that worthwhile, but think about it first before taking a leap of faith. I just checked your site, and the books are around 25-45, depending on subject. The real equivalents would be 3 or 4 times more, but in the end, you can sell them on or back to your book store and re-coup most of your losses. Think about if first is all I'm saying.

Re:comfortable? (1)

exhilaration (587191) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090551)

I'll tell you what's NOT comfortable: carrying 30 lbs of books on your back just because the freaking teacher MIGHT cover 2 or 3 pages.

Re:comfortable? (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 11 years ago | (#7092912)

I'm not comfortable carrying around large books of which small portions might be read.

I am comfortable curling up with my laptop -- the 1/2" Sharp Actius MM10. It's sleek, it's sexy, and it's also several times smaller than the typical single book.

Plus, it has several useful features for school, such as a search feature. Alphabetical order is good, Google order is better.

Re:comfortable? (1)

the_Mind05 (623299) | about 11 years ago | (#7103088)

"...but in the end, you can sell them on or back to your book store and re-coup most of your losses. Think about if first is all I'm saying."

Have you tried to sell back any books lately?! Recouping MOST of your losses is a laugh. One time I sold over $100 in books back and got $11. Granted if you can find somone one, or somewhere else, who will buy it you'll make more than that, but there are two disadvantages: 1) there's no guaruntee and 2) as the name implies you're still getting a lot less than your books is worth if you took good care of it.

Bad idea. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089112)

Here's why []


Re:Bad idea. (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089611)

But it can be a good thing [] , as long as the content is Free from restrictions.

Think.... The classes taught worldwide in universities are nearly the same, why the hell do we waste effort and money reinventing the wheel constantly. If we had a strong library of open text books, college would be that much cheaper for everyone.

It works for elementary school too. There's even less diversity there in textbooks. Was I the only person who thought it was insane that school districts don't have enough money for textbooks?

Our tax money is being wasted on "All Rights Reserved" textbooks to the tune of billions of dollars a year. If 5% of that money for one year instead went to fund the creation of open text books, we'd never have to buy another textbook again.

Mod parent up (1)

Kethinov (636034) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089843)

I'd mod you up if I had mod points. It all boils down to people not fully accepting what technology can do for them out of fear, ignorance, or both.

Re:Bad idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7090048)

That'd be wonderful--but if a school district under the auspices of any government (which most are) started to undertake such an effort, the textbook publish company would launch an epic lobbying assault such that the world has never seen.

The only examples of commercially published electronic textbooks I have seen or readabout so far:

  • cost more
  • contain intrusive DRM
  • eliminate the right of first sale

I see no reason to support the creation of commercial electronic textbooks, given the demonstrated greed of the commercial publishers. While I agree that an open textbook effort would be outstanding, I believe it would be crushed by the commercial industry before gaining critical mass.


Re:Bad idea. (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 11 years ago | (#7092703)

A few years ago, one could have said the same thing about software. It just takes a group to go out and start doing it. I'd be hard to attack such a movement, even harder than attacking Free software, since everyone can identify with textbooks.

I'd be like the current telemarketer do-not-call thing. They would be viewed as a minority who wanted to hold the majority hostage against its will, public support would be huge.

Re:Bad idea. (1)

emilymildew (646109) | more than 11 years ago | (#7096327)

From the story: "But not only were they illegal, like debuggers--you could not install one if you had one, without knowing your computer's root password. And neither the FBI nor Microsoft Support would tell you that."

Well, good for me, then, since Microsoft couldn't possibly know the password for my iBook.

(snarky snark snark. Apple users will reign!) (1)

Eneff (96967) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089125)

I think that's what everyone's using these days, anyway... (1)

exhilaration (587191) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090532)

Are people really pirating textbooks? I've heard rumors of that (here) - that you could get scanned textbooks as PDF's through p2p channels. But I have yet to see any proof that students are actually being crazy enough to scan entire textbooks. (1)

Eneff (96967) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090547)

(In all seriousness, I've seen things like Ann Coultier's book, etc, around... I've also seen a few textbooks, though never mine.

This was before I had the money to pay for my music)

Digital Camera (1)

Zach Garner (74342) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089176)

1. Buy a Digital Camera (3 megapixels is fine, less may be ok)
2. Buy the Book.
3. Take digital photos of the book (you can do a full 1000 page text book in an hour or two)
4. Return the book.

You'll make the money back on the camera in one term. For best quality, use a tripod and take the pictures outside in natural sunlight (but you can get buy in a quiet corner of a library or bookstore)

After some processing, images are about 100k each in jpeg format. They can be viewed on a PDA (not for long viewing sessions, though) or over the internet with a reasonably fast connection. I haven't had much luck with OCR software, or conversion to PDF.

Re:Digital Camera (1)

mOoZik (698544) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089225)

That is a *very* good idea. Have you put it to practice or are hypothesizing? I am tempted to try this next semester. $600 dollars in books every semester isn't much fun.

Re:Digital Camera (1)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089295)

That would be immoral *and* illegal.

On the other hand, there's almost no way you can be caught. Nice one! :-)

Re:Digital Camera (1)

rmohr02 (208447) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089509)

Most of the bookstores around my campus require the book to be in shrinkwrap for it to be returned.

Re:Digital Camera (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091073)

Hopefully you've got friends/roomies/etc in your courses.

Get 3 or 4 people together, each one buys a textbook and let the others scan it.

Re:Digital Camera (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089871)

well... there is a better method... one that is not quite so illegal.

buy a book, preferably softcover. cut the binding off the book (you may need a saw of some sort here).
Buy or acquire a scanner with a tray so that you can dump the book into the tray and walk away while it scans.

Now you can leave it in jpg format, but thats a very large document. contrary to the parent post, lots of people have alot of luck with OCR software. From there, you can make it a PDF, text, .doc, htm, whatever. (PDF's are popular nowadays). They work reasonably well, though proofreading is necessary.

For more information, check out the gutenberg project (legit) or #bookz on undernet or dalnet (not so legit). There are many people in those communities who do this all the time to help you.

Personally, I thought the parent post was trying to be funny when he said take pictures of the book, I really doubt this is practical unless he has a really good camera with a really long battery life (note that the lack of a scan and what I assume to be low resolution used on the camera might be what caused him problems with the OCR software).

So long as you dont redistribute this book, you should be 100% legal. But of course, what fun is there in that? :)

Re:Digital Camera (1)

Zach Garner (74342) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090205)

Right. With a scanner, OCRs are great. I was talking about with digital photos with a camera. Not only that, I'm talking about Quickly taking lots of images without damaging the book. Without proofreading, and with graphics and diagrams intact. I'm talking about technical books (and cookbooks), not novels.

The images produced are good enough for reading as jpegs, for long periods of time, at least on my monitor. They are not good enough for OCR software that I've used.

I use a power cable with my camera, so battery life is not a problem. I use a Sony DSC-P5 3 Megapixel camera, with 1600x1200 image size, Fine picture quality, high detail, low flash (depending on the environment). With a tripod, images are always clear and I can take 10 pages per minute (so a 1000 page book in less than two hours).

Sorry to hear it... (2, Interesting)

Mattcelt (454751) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089177)

While I sympathize with your plight, I'm even more concerned with the number and size of books that are being foisted on our younger students. It's worse than it was when I was in school - and a large number of children are starting to develop back and shoulder problems at a very young age because of the weight of the books they are expected to carry.

Problem is, textbook companies don't *want* to put things on CD for us - there's no financial incentive to do so. One student could buy the textbook and share it with the whole class - or even world+dog. So they have no reason to put things in a digital format, as much easier as that would be.

Anybody have any ideas about how we might get around this?

Re:Sorry to hear it... (1)

Go Aptran (634129) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089447)

In college, I took a course on the plays of Shakespeare and the text that we ABSOLUTELY HAD TO USE weighed in at about 10 lbs and took up quite a great deal of room.

Solution? I would photocopy the play that we working on that day/week and leave the text at home. I could write notes all over the photocopy, underline to my hearts content and I had a nearly flawless book to sell back at the end of the semester.

There were no PDFs back then and OCR software was still primitive and nearly unusable. Photocopies cause less back pain and cost only a dollar or two a week.

Great resolution, very portable, very cheap.

Re:Sorry to hear it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7089555)

So is this the lame excuse for why all students, even down to elementary school, are dragging around those ridiculous wheeled travel bags? Fucking ridiculous if you ask me. They're just a bunch of fat, lazy morons. Even just 6-7 years ago when I was in college, everyone toted around their backpacks and didn't complain. No cell phones either. The world is going down the crapper fast!

Re:Sorry to hear it... (1)

flabbergast (620919) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090680)

Here's [] a link to The Log Cabin Democrat about backpacks, which is an AP news report. Also, the American Chiropractice Association has this link [] with tips on backpacks. You should note its not necessarily the weight of the pack, rather how its worn. Wearing both shoulder straps and carrying it at the proper level (above the waist) is encouraged.

Re:Sorry to hear it... (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 11 years ago | (#7094045)

"One student could buy the textbook and share it with the whole class - or even world+dog. So they have no reason to put things in a digital format, as much easier as that would be. Anybody have any ideas about how we might get around this?"

You'd think so... but for some reason it doesn't seem to work this way. In one electrical devices course I took about 1 year ago, the textbook came with a CD. This CD had the entire textbook's contents on it stored in 23 MB of unencrypted PDF files.

Nevertheless, almost everyone bought the textbook. But when it came to sell them the next semester, everyone just took a copy of those PDF files and passed the book on to the next buyer.

In some small way this probably does reduce sales because the PDFs make it more likely that someone will sell the used book, making it less likely for other people to get new copies. But I still forsee that with e-textbooks, the main source of textbook sales will remain the same: New revisions of the book and courses just starting up that the book.

The only way I forsee this changing is if EVERY textbook had an e-format. If everyone got used to the idea of textbooks being distributed like this, then I could see a new use for filesharing networks popping up rather quickly.

Make the professors demand it (2, Interesting)

bluGill (862) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089186)

Your professor holds office hours, and announces them at the begining of class. (at least in the university I went to, I assume the others are similear) Get in his office and complain that paper books are too heavy and askward, you want paper books. Don't forget to mention that cost is also a problem with books. Thank the professors who do pay attention to money (even if it is accidental...) too. While you are there (and now that you know the way and when to go) use those office hours regularly get help on the class. Perhaps you can get an A. (I always wished I had taken my own advice...)

Most text books are written by professors. If you demand e-books, they will see a demand, and make sure at the very least their next book has an electronic format.

You as a student have little power in itself. Professors are human though, and they have power. Work on them, and they will use the power to represent your interests.

Re:Make the professors demand it (1)

peeping_Thomist (66678) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090036)

If you demand e-books, they will see a demand, and make sure at the very least their next book has an electronic format.

Most professors love real books, and they wish you loved them too. It makes them sad when they see you not making notations in the margins of your books. There's nothing like a real book.

Re:Make the professors demand it (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 11 years ago | (#7093989)

"Most professors love real books, and they wish you loved them too."

Really? How do you know?

"It makes them sad when they see you not making notations in the margins of your books."

Professors don't have to sell their current batch of books to be able to pay for the next semester's batch of books. Writing on the pages reduces the resale value. To get a textbook, all the professor has to do is phone the publisher, mention that they are considering using the book in a course and the publisher immediately couriers over some free copies. (Sales in the textbooks to students, assuming the book is used in the course, recoup this cost.)

I find in general that professors are often out-to-lunch on the realities of the textbook market. I've heard professors claim that they would be appalled if the books for their course cost more than $60 yet the book itself is $90 and the workbook is another $30 to 40. I'm a 4th year engineering student now and I can count on the fingers one hand the number of professors I've had that actually knew the cost of the books used in their courses because they always get it for free.

Since when has Digital been cheaper? (2, Interesting)

bandy (99800) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089214)

Since when has the digital version of an analog consumer product been cheaper than the original? Digital is whizzy, and a chance for the manufacturers to charge more, as the first adopters pay the cost of tooling up and the follow-on crowd gets to pay the established high price while the content providers rake in the dough.

Is it cheaper to:

  • press a cd or dvd
  • slowly copy a video or audio tape from a master

They'll lock you into a magic proprietary format which will break at the most inopportune time and you won't be able to sell them to others. Just say no. High book prices is one of the costs of college.

For the record (2, Funny)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089267)

I recently purchased textbooks for the current semester in college only to end up with an empty wallet and a sore back.

A sore back? Um, how exactly are you making money for college again?

Study Habits... (1)

phraktyl (92649) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089271)

My biggest complaint about this would be the marks highlighters make on the laptop screen when I'm studying for a test...

Seriously, though, as big and heavy as they are, marking up your books so you can study effectively is something that isn't possible (that I know of) with an eBook or PDF. Until this happens, as much as I want to, I can't see replacing dead tree books with my Palm Pilot.

Re:Study Habits... (1)

Zach Garner (74342) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089357)

Adobe Acrobat (Full version, you know where to find it) has a highlighting feature. It works really well, and has the added bonus of being searchable and archivable.

If you're stuck with jpeg images (if you don't have acrobat, you can dump the PDF to images), you can a simple image editing program to highlight (use transparency or 'darken-only' features of the program)

That only works with full computers, however. With a palm, the tools aren't really there yet.

They'll cost as much or more than the paper ones (2, Insightful)

CMU_Nort (73700) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089277)

You're sadly delusional if you think that digital textbooks will cost any bit less than the dead-tree counterparts. Retail e-books cost just as much as the hardcovers, even after they're out on paperback. If anything, I'd say the publishers will charge more for the e-textbook because of all the value-added of being able to search through it easily.

Re:They'll cost as much or more than the paper one (3, Interesting)

user no. 590291 (590291) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089297)

And they'll have no resale value, because they'll be DRM'd out the ass.

Re:They'll cost as much or more than the paper one (1)

Asprin (545477) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089581)

Right, but it has nothing to do with convenience.

Such high-level/low-demand textbooks as my grad-level quantum field mechanics book ($150+ in 1993!) are expensive because of the FIXED cost of getting them written, not the variable cost of printing them. Your standard $30 intro-to psych text is much cheaper because the fixed production cost is spread out over a much larger number of units -- many many more people take intro to psych than quantum field mechanics.

Unfortunately, the variable costs are the ones that are zeroed out by e-book publishing. Unless you are looking for a best-seller that's already made back its fixed costs, so much for the revolution.

Re:They'll cost as much or more than the paper one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#7090280)

Solution: Make grad-level quantum mechanics required in freshman year :).

is it really cheaper? (2, Interesting)

mdaitc (619734) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089299)

ok, so i thought i'd look at computer books.
Introduction to Object Oriented Programming With C++
Millspaugh, Anita
Harcourt College Publishers
ISBN: 0-03-023621-5

Digital version: $40
Amazon marketplace: 23 from $7.49 - just bought one including shipping for $10 19.95 = $30USD approx.

so what would you use? what's the advantage, when i can have a book in my hand for $10 to have it digitally for $40...

Paper and electronic both have their purpose... (1)

Elivs (43960) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089401)

For reference text and journals I have electronic subscriptions. For reference texts and journals you want to look up one specific bit of information. This is easier done via electronic texts/journals where you can serach the databases. Also you can generally get web acccess to the text. This is handy as I find I never know what detail I'm going to need until I need it at my finger tips.

On the other hand, I am studing for medical specialty board exams. For this I prefer getting paper textbooks. Its easier to "study" from books. For studing I'm likely to read the book for hours at a time and make notes in the margin etc. Portability and searchability are less important. Even though electronic forms are available for most, I still wouldn't consider using them for study. For courses at college I would still recommend getting paper books.

So I would suggest you decide what sort of texts you want... study vs. reference. Get paper books for the study books, and get web access for reference books. The only central search engine I've found for finding online text is google, there is no equivalent to


Lecturer's Notes? (1)

TwistedSquare (650445) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089477)

While I am generally a fan of traditional paper books, at my uni on the CS course most of the lecturers made their notes (powerpoint, pdf etc) available electronically and for a lot of courses these sufficed -- maybe you should ask about this as well?

Digital will cost you far more than paper, (1)

Mordant (138460) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089526)

due to the fact that you'll have to keep replacing your PowerBook/iBook LCDs as the scribbled notes, highlighter annotations, and Liquid Paper blotches add up to make the screen unreadable. ;>

There are...problems... (1)

stienman (51024) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089541)

Firstly, let's address the cost. They won't cost less. Sorry. Professors and book companies (and even universities) exact their toll in royalties. They won't lower the cost of an electronic edition. In fact, many professors must publish books because they do not make enough money teaching and through research. Defining 'enough money' is left as an exercise for the reader.

But really, publishing an electronic book is just as, and possibly more, expensive than a paper book. You don't get calls the night before finals at the publisher house, "I'm having trouble turning the page..." or, more realistically, "The index is missing/doesn't work, etc"

Tech support is only half the problem. The EBook must also then work on at least Windows 95-xp, Mac 8 and above, Linux (dozens of variations), and a few unix OSs.

Furthermore, the book is expected to work on any future machines invented in the next dozen years - with some books needing an indefinite lifetime.

Then comes the problem of errata and editions. How often do you release a new edition? How do you package it? What features do you support? At this point each textbook is expected to have the text, a few apendices (answers, basic concepts, refreshers, glossaries) and an index and bibliography. These are easy to add to the computer version, but then you can't compete on level ground with other publishers with greater resources. Given the choice between a complete Ebook with basic search, and a not-so complete EBook with search, interactive examples, etc the professors are going to choose the inferior book because of the bells and whistles. Books will become all about the bells and whistles.

Because of that professors will be hard pressed to add new, expensive, and time consuming material such as videos, and perhaps even full lectures to the "EBooks". A publisher simply won't accept an EBook unless it can win out over another already existing EBook in the flash, fit and finish department.

Besides all this, the professors using the text must adapt to the new teaching style an EBook requires - and you'd have to double publish the book and EBook so nobody would be left out.

The experience I've had is with a few books (in computer courses) where the book includes a CD with the full searchable text, and another book where the complete text is available for free online. I used the online one, but I only toyed with the CD one. The online version didn't have page numbers that corresponded with the printed text, but otherwise was usable as long as I knew what chapter and subchapter we were talking about in class.

In short, they may come, but only when professors themselves decide to ask publishers to publish their works in ebook format.


Re:There are...problems... (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089681)

All those problems come from the assumption that it will be published in some closed proprietary format. It's entirely possible to distribute the book in an open format, and have none of those problems.

If you still want to be an asshole about it, you can require the students give you a valid serial number before they can pass the class.

There, problem solved, without stupid DRM. Read in your favorite editor/browser/DVI viewer.

Re:There are...problems... (1)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 11 years ago | (#7095399)

In fact, many professors must publish books because they do not make enough money teaching and through research.
Many professors publish books because they are seeking tenure. Publications count. Published books count quite a bit, IIRC, although the metrics vary from school to school. Unless you are fortunate (and skilled) enough to write "a classic" -- a book so good that classes at many schools use it -- the direct income from the book is probably less important than the bump in pay and security that tenure carries.

Re:There are...problems... (1)

the_Mind05 (623299) | about 11 years ago | (#7103174)

"Furthermore, the book is expected to work on any future machines invented in the next dozen years - with some books needing an indefinite lifetime.

Then comes the problem of errata and editions. How often do you release a new edition? "

Ther point about the new editions negates te point about the lifetime of the book. It has come to the point where I have a hard time selling a brand new book I bought back at the end of the semester because they have already come out with a new edition. That's it, that's becoming the new 'lifetime' of a book, a semester. It's sad really. Seeing as the ony change a few things that are posted in the errata anyway. What's even sadder is that this semester I couldn't buy the used edition of one of my books because the class required a book (read edition) that had a publishing date of 2005. Hurray for publisher not following silly things like the roman calander.

examples, courseware, collaborative creation (1)

mlinksva (1755) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089593)

Light and Matter [] has some electronic textbooks freely available under a Creative Commons license.

As the classroom becomes more digital, I predict we'll see a strong move to "courseware" as opposed to simple digital versions of textbooks. One reason (among many) is that courseware is easy to do in the form of "software as service" and thus has little worry about unauthorized copying. But some people are doing courseware that may be freely copied and reused. Check out MIT OpenCourseWare [] and the Rice Connexions Repository [] .

Also, why not collaborative creation of textbooks using a Wikipedia [] model?

Re:examples, courseware, collaborative creation (1)

mlinksva (1755) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090314)

Replying to myself -- I should've searched before posting. Wikibooks [] does exist.

Re:examples, courseware, collaborative creation (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090913)

Woo hoo -- thanks for the plug for Light and Matter :-)

See The Assayer [] for a general catalog of free books [] .

Some of these links [] may also be apropos: publishers, mailing lists, etc.

ebooks (1)

smoon (16873) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089608)

You can find 'pirated' books on usenet, but you're unlikely to find the specific books you want/need that way. Good way to get some cheap (free) reference material though.

The digital camera idea is fine, except that JPEG doesn't do solid black lines so well. I suspect that 'doing a 1000 page book' in an afternoon or something is more than a bit optimistic.

Get a locker or two. Don't lug all of your books around to all of your classes. You're in college for gods sake -- you only have a few classes a day and unless you've worked out some scheduling miracle you'll have plenty of time between sessions to stop off at a locker.

maybe use the digital camera idea for chapters you're studying that week -- quick reference w/out the book.

Most of my prof's only rarely referred to the textbooks, making them a near total waste of money. A few used them extensively. Try to guess which is which and return the less-used books during the first week or two of classes.

Most university libraries have course textbooks on reserve. Use that as a resource when you *have* to read something in particular. Or ask a cute classmate to have a 'study session' and mooch off of their book.

Check in with the prof during office hours. Many will have 'last years' review copy laying around. A little social engineering might get you access to it.

Not as much of a blessing as you'd think (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 11 years ago | (#7089926)

Several of my professors are in the process of writing their own book. They're not done yet. "In the meantime, here's a free digital copy!" Of course, they're in .ps, and heafty to print, come with no index, and are added to daily. What I wouldn't give for a fucking hardcopy when I'm trying to figure out how to turn this professor's bizarre proof into an SML program, with his beta ForLan tools.

Kinkos... (1)

jabberjaw (683624) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090118)

I am not sure about the e-book, but I can help with your back problem. Go to Kinkos or any other copy shop and have them razor the binding of the textbook. Then take a standard three-hole puncher to the text and viola! Now you only have to take the chapters you need to class in a standard 3-ring binder.

the virtual real world (2, Interesting)

KrazzeeKooter (593834) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090216)

I hope we can all picture a future where the information, particularly educational material is free as its distribution has no cost. (MIT's online coursework is a good example of things moving in that direction.) The cost of outfitting a study will likewise be increasingly more desirable, and increasingly more expensive. It's not a stretch by any means.

But it is hard to guess how it will change other aspects of life and indeed that will be the greater impact. Suddenly a society with truly equal opportunity, being rich or of a geographic local like the US may not distinguish between the have and have nots of knowledge, information, and hence opportunity as is now specifically the case in institutions of higher learning and modern media. Perhaps literature becomes free while physical books might become more sought of as tokens, tomes, and symbols of knowledge by increasingly eclectic collectors and keepers. Their real value is that they can be referenced and referred to as frozen snapshots of a state knowledge at a given point in history. A slice of the cerebral cortex while the cerebral cortex continues to think and evolve.

The primary texts are free to change and develop, free of traditional copyright, until someone again takes a snapshot or captures a state of the literature that is particularly poignant or relative. What living texts will mean to educational texts is one thing (in fact it's well underway specifically making leaps in the study of the human genome), but what it means to fiction could be quite amazing. Will arts and literature cease to sustain a living? Will all those facets of life beyond basic existence (food, shelter, water) separate from from the higher exploits of culture, like art, literature and music. A separation of culture and commerce similar to the separation of church and state?

Would this truly make culture open and finally end the corruption and exploitation of culture by commerce. (Yes your identity and your need to belong in culture are being exploitatiously sold back to you, don't buy in, don't further fuel it.) It's a given that commerce has driven a wedge between the population and it's own culture and identity. It's given that further alienation of the individual and their society through commerce will increase suicide, bulimia, and and infinite amount of other social illnesses.

Will a separation of culture and commerce allow for greater opportunity and interest in non-commercial success through exploits in knowledge and arts without some sort of mandate for commercial success first. Perhaps in the near future someone might happily flip burgers and be a world renowned expert and lecturer on 1950's movie posters, or 14th century history of the city of Florence though they may live in Boise Idaho.

...or perhaps the silent majority of us may live in caves, stripped of our identities and culture and left eating rice while shelling out the bulk of our income for the latest pop artist is a vain and desperate attempt to fill a need we failed to understand when we had the chance... burying our children because they couldn't buy their way into society.

Re:the virtual real world (1)

Anztac (322182) | about 11 years ago | (#7101121)

Very well put! That's all I have to say, every time I read a viewpoint that opens my perceptions a little farther, it makes me happy, and you've certainly done that.

Acadia Advantage (1)

Tr0mBoNe- (708581) | more than 11 years ago | (#7090492)

I am a Computer Science student at Acadia University [] in Wolfville Nova Scotia Canada, and we were the first university in the world to have LAN and intenet access in each students dorm room, and to issue an IBM laptop to each student.

For most of my classes, I have the traditional text book, but even in the time that I started here, (Last year ;)), my costs have gone down because most professors will give you URLs for sites with the text or references on them. This cuts my bills in half, but because we have laptops and OC3 internet connections, we have the highest tuition of any university in canada, coming in at just under 15,000 CDN (about 26,000 CDN for international students).

I just like the laptop, because I personally can't stand reading an EBook on my PDA all day... my eyes cant take it... i'm used to the laptop screen.

I think that we are never going to get out of this paper addiciton that we got ourselves into. Even with the wide spread usage of computer, we are using more paper than ever.

DIY (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 11 years ago | (#7091402)

I am reminded of a friend who was working for her PhD in Art History. Part of the final exam required her to be able to identify any image from the textbook with detailed info on date, artist, etc. She decided to turn her textbook into flashcards. Of course she immediately discovered she'd need TWO copies of the textbook to turn every photo into a card, since some images on one side of the page would cut into an image on the other side. Of course she needed 3 copies of the textbook since she had to study it too. And this was a $95 textbook, back in the 1970s when that was REAL money.
Anyway, it is fairly easy to convert textbooks to PDFs on a scanner, I do it all the time. The easiest way is to cut the binding off the book, and shove all the pages in a sheet-fed scanner. Of course you destroy the book in the process, but you could have it rebound if you really cared to.

Don't worry (1)

RealErmine (621439) | more than 11 years ago | (#7093811)

In 10 years the cheap availability of digital textbooks will be offset by the animated ads for fast food and deoderant that appear in the margins.

Ummm... Patent Pending!
::Runs to patent office::

Roll Your Own (1)

TwP (149780) | more than 11 years ago | (#7095257)

Purchase your books at the beginning of the semester, and scan the chapters in one by one as you need them. It's a lot of work, so you might want to get together with several other Technorati in your class and spread the work and share the benefits.

The best way to store the information would be to save each page as a gif, tiff, jepg (whatever floats your boat) and then collect the pages for each chapter into a PDF document. At the end of the semester you will have the entire book in digital format. You can sell the original back to the bookstore and keep the digital copy for future reference. Make backups!

Don't plan on saving any money if books go digital (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 11 years ago | (#7095869)

As others have mentioned, book printing is a pretty minimal part of the cost of the textbook. Even shipping, handling, breaking bulk, staff at the bookstore, and everything else are pretty minimal. Just think about how much a generic, big dictionary costs compared to a textbook. Books are expensive because they can be! Each book a professor or faculty chooses for a course becomes a mini-monopoly. Thus, it is logical that companies try to maximize their revenues, when they own these little markets. This means, books priced as high as is considered affordable, and very short edition life and shrink wrapped books are used to kill off the resale market.

The publishing houses and authors work very hard to win over professors and faculties - free books for the profs are only part of the marketing that goes on. Some other "selling" features are the bundled resources like sample tests, and spiffy "website resources". There might be other less moral incentives, but I don't know for sure either way.

A good situation for students? No. Are high textbook prices the fault of professors? Probably not. Are they the fault of publishers or authors? Maybe. Is it simply a broken market for consumers? Yeah, probably.

Vital Source Technologies (1)

Doctor (82223) | about 11 years ago | (#7105327)

Vital Source produces DVDs for mainly medical and dental textbooks. Sadly, their website is lacking in detail.

From what I recall students get about two DVDs per academic year, one at the start and one in the middle. A freely available properiatery reader program and license key is required to view the content. OS requirements are 2000, XP, OS 9 or OS X.

Vital Source has secured the copyright to many many textbooks. Schools can also submit their own content to be included on the DVD, such as lab manuals, student orientation guides, etc. Hyperlinks can also refer back to the schools website. I can't recall which schools use these DVDs but there are a few. I believe New Jersey Dental School uses them.

Disclaimer: I am not employed by Vital Source in any way.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?