Technology · Thoughts

What I Learned about Ebooks from College


E-textbooks are generally cheaper than physical textbooks, so I tend to pick them when I feel the price of the physical book is too high. Since starting college, I have used ebooks in my classes. I anticipated buying ebooks for my classes.

When I visited colleges, we were advised that it was in our best interests to have an ereader to access our e-textbooks. I have been thankful to have an ereader for personal reading and reading for school. There are some things that I was not warned about with e-textbooks, so I want you to be prepared for what you may experience with ebooks in college.

1. My e-textbooks are only on the publisher’s website.

I have found the occasional, traditional textbook available as a Kindle ebook and many versions of classics as ebooks. One of my ebooks was available through a website and app that worked with our bookstore. Most of my e-textbooks are available only on the publisher’s website. The ebook version of the textbook usually gets forced on us when the instructor or the department has decided that the publisher has good homework and online exercises.

My major problem with having to access the textbook only through the publisher’s website is that I cannot access the book without an Internet connection. Besides this being an issue for completing homework on the website, I need to be able to read and access my book at any time at home or in the classroom. This may come down to the usual arguments about physical books vs. ebooks, but the fact is that you pay more for having a physical and an ebook than only the ebook. It would be nice if I could access the homework on the publisher’s website without an ebook, but I have never seen that as an option.

Note to self: Academic publishing is lucrative for the publisher and the bookstore.

2. That ebook is not yours forever.

When you purchase an ebook from the bookstore or through the publisher’s website (usually for access to homework), you do not get to have that ebook forever. My campus bookstore says that you are “buying” an ebook, which implies to me that I would have it forever if I wanted. What “buying” actually means is that I get to access my textbook through a special website that says I only have access to it until the end of the semester. I see the same when I have to access the book through the publisher’s website. They should call it a rental.

The hardest example I have of this is that I bought an accounting ebook for a class, but I purchased the lifetime access. I found out a week into the course that I would be unable to access the textbook unless I was in the course. Maybe I only know how to access the textbook through the course, but I did not see a link to it on any other page.

Moral: Get your e-textbooks from Amazon when possible because it gives you the option to rent or buy.

3. Sometimes it’s your instructor’s fault that you can’t access your ebook.

Some of the publisher websites will not allow you to access your e-textbook unless your instructor has opened a course section on the site. As a student, you usually find out about this in the first or second week of class. A classmate in calculus complained to the instructor that he could not access his textbook without the instructor opening a course on the publisher’s website. Since then, I have heard of similar cases where our instructor chose not to make us do online homework through the publisher’s website.

4. Ebooks don’t always have page numbers.

Ebooks are not always paginated. I find this most often with books in the public domain, but I know plenty where I have paid $12 or more for not having page numbers.

I find that this is a problem for me as an English major because I need to keep up with the reading and because we must cite our sources. It can be hard to figure out what needs to be read when you do not have page numbers to reference. I have seldom received only chapter numbers as a guide, so I have to put more work in to figure out where to stop. Citations are the next issue. Most of my professors want only page numbers in citations, so “Location 2085 of 3040” does not work. I need to have an actual page or paragraph number. (Let’s be honest: it’s too hard to keep track of paragraph numbers in an ebook.) This makes everything much harder.

This is not only a problem with Kindle ebooks. One of the many courses I have taken that require us to go to the publisher’s website to access the ebook did not paginate the ebook. The closest we got to page numbers was specific sections that were presented in webpage format.


I hope that this was helpful to anyone attending or planning to attend college.

Have you had to use ebooks for your classes? What have you learned from using e-textbooks?

11 thoughts on “What I Learned about Ebooks from College

  1. It’s a common misconception that academic publishing is lucrative for publishers and authors. However, when you write a very specialized book, your audience is limited and you generally don’t have the opportunity to make a lot of money off it. The market for “Burial Rituals in North America” or even Chemistry 101 just isn’t large. You can’t sell it like Harry Potter to the general public, to just about any age range from 9 and up.

    The prices charged by academic publishers are a direct result of the used book market. You can think of it this way (with made up numbers). In the past, a textbook might cost $10. It could sell 1000 copies and there would be $10,000 for the author, editors, illustrators, marketing department, etc. etc. to share in profits. Now because of the used book industry, only 200 copies might sell. That means the creators of the books will only get $2000. That’s not enough to pay all the people who worked on it plus keep the building they work in running.

    Where is the money for textbooks going now? To the bookstores who tell you they are your friends because they are giving you low prices in used books and rentals. Actually, they are the ones driving up the prices of textbooks because every time they sell or rent a book, they get the money–not the author or the publisher. That means that, to make their former $10,000 instead of $2000, the publishers have to increase the initial price of the textbook. Now the book costs $50 instead of $10. (I know they really cost around $200, but I’m working with my made up numbers here.)

    Textbooks aren’t cheap, but it’s simply not true that the publishers and authors are making out like bandits. The bookstore renting you books probably is, though. Because they only have to pay for one book and then they can rent it out five times or more. Maybe they bought the book for $200 and they rent it out five times for $100. They’ve just made $300 on one book. Meanwhile, that’s four books the original publisher hasn’t sold. (And if you don’t return the book, the bookstore will charge you full price plus a fee so you will probably end up paying more to the bookstore than if you’d just bought a textbook new to begin with.)

    I understand college students cannot all afford to purchase new books. However, we should recognize that by buying used books, we are technically complicit in the failure of the original creators to make money off their work. And so I don’t think we should criticize them for trying to make a living by raising the prices.


    1. I will acknowledge that buying used books forces the authors and publishers to raise the prices, but as a person who has to watch the budget, I tend to go for used books.


      1. Sure, just about every college student buys used books. I didn’t mean to come across as blaming anyone for that. I just think we should also acknowledge that publishing is not a lucrative business. Starting salaries for editors are often around $30,000. The median is $50,000. Most publishing jobs are in NYC. To receive $30,000 to live in NYC is, frankly, a little scandalous. $50,000 is probably tough to live on, too.


      2. I did not think about it that way – in terms of looking at the salaries of people involved. The media and general conversation usually claim that publishing is lucrative.


      3. I have seen criticisms of publishing being only open to the the wealthy, and that may be true since you need to be somewhat rich to start with if you’re going to be able to do a series of unpaid internships (maybe moving to do it and also needing to pay for room and board while you aren’t getting paid), maybe go for the MA in publishing, and accept an entry-level job that pays a paltry amount of money (especially considering how much work is required). However, it’s just not true in general that publishers and authors are making tons of money (perhaps the reason they can’t afford to pay their employees a decent wage?).

        I’ve tried explaining to employees at college bookstores why the books they sell are so astronomically priced, but none of them seemed to understand that the company they work for is driving the prices up, not the publishers. It’s just so much easier to go, “But these prices are a crying shame! Here, let me help you out and give you a cheap rental!” I appreciate their concern for my personal finances, however. I know they’re just doing their jobs and trying to sell things, and many of them really do feel bad about the prices. And there’s no easy way out. College students in general can’t afford to pay full price for textbooks, so the cycle is going to continue.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Some of my argument for wanting an ereader was that I could use it for my classes. The colleges I visited while I was in high school were encouraging it too, although they were usually biased toward Nooks and their EPUB-reading ability. It seriously became a problem when my English courses required page numbers for citation and for in-class discussion (if we were allegedly using the same edition).


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