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Digital Textbooks for College? 73

Posted by Cliff
from the lifting-the-load-out-of-your-backpack dept.
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."
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Digital Textbooks for College?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    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!
    • 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
      • 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.
    • 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 pe
      • 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 cos

        • 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.
    • 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

  • by NanoGator (522640) on Monday September 29, 2003 @06:02PM (#7089105) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Dude, I just bring the iBook when I have to take a shit. WiFi rocks.
    • 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 aw

      • 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 yo
  • 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 half.com or back to your book store and re-coup most of your losses. Think about if first is
    • 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.
    • 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.

    • "...but in the end, you can sell them on half.com 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 half.com, 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
  • Bad idea. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here's why [gnu.org]

    ~~~

    • But it can be a good thing [ibiblio.org], 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 t
      • 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.
    • 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!)

  • I think that's what everyone's using these days, anyway...
    • 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.
      • (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)
  • 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 sessi
    • 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.
    • That would be immoral *and* illegal.

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

    • Most of the bookstores around my campus require the book to be in shrinkwrap for it to be returned.
  • Sorry to hear it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mattcelt (454751) on Monday September 29, 2003 @06:09PM (#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?
    • 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

    • Here's [thecabin.net] a link to The Log Cabin Democrat about backpacks, which is an AP news report. Also, the American Chiropractice Association has this link [amerchiro.org] 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.
    • "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, a

  • by bluGill (862) on Monday September 29, 2003 @06:10PM (#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.

    • 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.

      • "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 immediat

  • 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 an

  • by orthogonal (588627) on Monday September 29, 2003 @06:19PM (#7089267) Journal
    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?
  • 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.

    • 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.
  • by CMU_Nort (73700) on Monday September 29, 2003 @06:20PM (#7089277) Homepage
    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.

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

    • 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 t
  • by mdaitc (619734)
    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
    Amazon.co.uk: 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...
  • 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

  • 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?
  • 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. ;>
  • 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 ni
    • 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.
    • 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 th

    • "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
  • Light and Matter [lightandmatter.com] 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 [mit.edu] and the Rice Conn [rice.edu]

  • by smoon (16873)
    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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 opportuni

    • 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.
  • I am a Computer Science student at Acadia University [acadiau.ca] 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 h
  • by sakusha (441986)
    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
  • 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::
  • 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. Yo
  • 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. Thi
  • 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

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