You might think to yourself, well, Allison is a huge proponent of digital technology as a means of democratizing the publishing industry, so she must love digital versions of text books for her classes, right?
Wrong. I still buy them, because let’s face it, they save you money and they do take up a lot less space. But I absolutely despise digital versions of college text books. Let me tell you why.
They’re Not Ebooks.
We’re not talking about mobi files or epub files, or even pdf files that you can download and put on your Kindle (or e-reader of choice). They’re locked down, so that you have to read them on a computer or tablet screen, and you can only read them while you have internet access. This means that I can’t take my textbooks camping, or read them on a car or bus ride. It also means I have to read them on a lit screen, and that’s kind of a hassle because I find lit screens really hard to read on. This is why I love my Kindle Paperwhite; I can dim the screen as needed to make reading easier on my eyes. I can get the angle of the screen right for reading, reducing the impact of ambient lighting and other sources of glare. I can carry the Kindle around with me easily, hell, I can even vacuum with it in hand.
But no. No text books on your Kindle.
I do read on my laptop. I read article length pieces, typically 2,000 words or less. Reading on a computer screen for these short lengths of time isn’t a strain. Reading three chapters of college text books, on the other hand, is a much more time and labor intensive activity.
You Don’t Get to Keep Them.
You can’t keep these text books that you paid a hundred dollars for. Typically your access to the books expires at the end of the term or shortly after, which means you can’t use them for reference later in school or indeed in your professional career. You can’t download them and store them on your computer, so in essence you’re paying a hundred dollars (or more) to rent a digital text that is difficult to read.
It is a better value to rent a physical copy of the text book from Amazon than to purchase these “e-texts” because it costs a lot less and hey, you don’t get to keep it anyway. But this is often not an option because the digital text books come with a set of homework usually required by the class you’re taking. That means…
You Don’t Actually Get a Choice.
When these books come with homework sets in an online “class,” you’re forced to buy the e-text. You’re not forced to use it, because get this, you can pay extra to get a physical text book sent to you.
I actually had one class over summer quarter that made a purchase of online course materials optional, which was great because it meant that students who could afford to make that extra purchase were graded differently than those who couldn’t. That sounds completely fair, right?
So even when you do get a choice as to whether to buy or not, it’s not a real choice.
They’re a Bad Deal All Around.
They’re not a good deal for the consumer at all, for all the reasons mentioned above and more. I’m not going to get into why they get away with stuff like this, because that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post and requires a lot more research than I’ve done for this spur-of-the-moment complaint blog. Also there are likely people out there who have written on the subject better than I can.
But I will say this: if text book publishers had to compete in a market that was open and fair, things wouldn’t work this way.
Okay, I’m going to get back to doing my homework.