Stellar Chariot

By Arun Neelakandan

eTextbooks: Textbooks on eReaders

Kindle 3
Credits: Photo by kodomut

I recently picked up an Amazon Kindle recently, and I’m loving it so far. In fact, I used it’s free 3G connection to help complete an assignment while my Internet connection was busted for about 4 days. My only complaint is that it feels quite brittle and one butterfingered act of clumsiness away from fracturing into several pieces.

Being a student at university, I wondered what’s keeping universities from handing out an eReader like a Kindle DX to every new student.


The advantages of using an eReader for textbooks are apparent:

  • No weighty textbooks to lug around
  • Searchability
  • Cheaper books and therefore, more students with textbooks
  • Universities can trumpet their ‘green’ credentials
  • Ease-of-distribution and access
  • Possible real-time correction of errata and updates
  • Electronic, synced notes
  • Smarter students — literature is now readable and readily available

I know that many students don’t purchase textbooks simply because claim they’re too expensive. Many recover some of their payment by reselling their used textbooks — but this can be a hassle and then there’s new textbook editions to contend with.

Personally, I’ve stopped purchasing textbooks since freshman year because I’ve found that lectures, course notes and the Internet were adequate for my needs — especially given I’m studying information technology. And in the rare case I really needed a textbook, I could simple borrow it from a library or grab it from a friend.

Of course, I don’t imagine that I could have managed this should I have done another course in an area such as biology or law.

The Disadvantages

  • Initial eReader purchase cost
  • Lack of colour images (E Ink technology is not quite there yet)
  • “Yet another device”
  • Physicality lost — note-taking, page flippability etc.
  • The fragility of Kindle/eReader
  • Requires more technically literate academics (to publish digital notes etc.)

As a workaround to the colour images problem, URLs to colour images could be provided. As a supplementary convenience, the links could also be encoded into QR codes.

Textbook Production Costs

Data from the National Association of College Stores via Larry Dignan/ZDNet.

There’s potential for savings in variety of areas including: paper and printing costs, bookstore operations and personnel and freight. Savings that can propagate down to the consumer.

Final Say

For now, textbooks on eReaders are for a small niche for the moment. For widespread adoption, more publishers need to publish cheaper textbooks in suitable eReader formats and more people need to have eReaders (or even eReader applications à la iPad.)

But will publishers sell cheap, digital textbooks? Will people be willing to buy large eReaders? In due time, meguesses.

References and Further Reading