Battle of the Books: Print vs eCopy

Which format do students prefer to buy their textbooks? Here is the breakdown between printed books and their e-versions.


Posed books and tablet. Emily Creighton | Features Editor

Morgan Nimmons, Contributing Writer

In my previous article, “Wasted Woes: I Wish I Hadn’t Bought That,” I discussed school supplies that college students buy and end up not using, along with cheaper alternatives. But I didn’t get the opportunity to talk about one of the most important school items: textbooks.

As college students of the Information Age, we rely almost entirely on technology, whether it be typing an assignment or emailing a professor. According to a 2013 study conducted by CourseSmart and Wakefield Research, 59 percent of students prefer to bring a laptop or tablet to class while 41 percent would rather bring a physical textbook. Since the majority of our time is filled with staring at a screen – Huffington Post says 68 percent of students use three or more electronic devices a day – naturally it’s more convenient for some to purchase eTextbooks. However, many students still prefer traditional hard copies.

So which one is better, eBooks or textbooks? The easiest way to settle this battle of the books is to compare them both by three criteria: cost, convenience and reliability.


Let’s face it, most of our money as college students goes towards buying textbooks. I’m pretty sure that we have all experienced reluctantly swiping a card to purchase a $100-plus textbook. Thankfully, students now have cheaper alternatives that can help them keep more cash in their bank accounts.

There is the option to rent a textbook instead of buying it. For example, the eighth edition of “Communication Between Cultures” that I used for a previous class is priced at around $100-$150 depending on whether it’s new or used, but only $40-$50 to rent from Amazon.

To rent the eTextbook is around the same price as it is to rent a hard copy on sites such as CourseSmart. However, when renting an eTextbook there’s no need to worry about returning it on time, because the website a student rents it from typically just gives a certain amount of time of accessibility. Here’s the opinion of a student who found cheaper places to purchase her hard copy textbooks:

CaptureOne of the things I bought in college that was essential was the textbook required for the class. The professors always stressed how important it was to have the textbook in order to keep up with the class. Most of them say you will fail without it. Nine times out of 10, the book will never be used and you end up wasting $100-$300! If you do use the book, sometime it will only be for a chart you can google for free! Now I realize there are many ways to acquire these super expensive textbooks without breaking the bank. Websites like,, and many more have fantastic deals for students to get their learning materials! They’re more affordable than your local book store!”

– Jaime Nickerson, Junior, Nursing



One of my pet peeves about school is having to lug around three to four heavy books in my backpack. I don’t work out and I am not a bodybuilder, so this five- foot- three, 120 pound weakling cannot handle that much of a load. This is when eTextbooks come in handy.

With electronic versions of textbooks, the only thing a student will have to concern themselves with is bringing the device that the eTextbook is downloaded on – tablet, phone or laptop (hopefully, you don’t have a 17” or larger laptop or else you might as well struggle with a traditional textbook). Electronic textbooks still have options for students to take notes, bookmark pages and highlight as they read.

EmmaJean poses for a protrait after giving her quote on books vs ebokos. Emily Creighton | Features Editor
EmmaJean Livingston, Senior, Communication Studies. Emily Creighton | Features Editor

However, there are still plenty of students who find regular textbooks more convenient to use:

CaptureI prefer physical textbooks over eBooks because they separate the amount of time I leisurely spend online already from the time I spend on school work. I find I get easily distracted while using electronic books due to being able to easily access other sites on the same device compared to a textbook being tangible. I can also concentrate more when reading school work depicted on a book’s paper page versus a bright screen. I recognize the positives of eBooks being more ecofriendly and maybe cheaper but I’d pick renting a textbook every time.”

–  EmmaJean Livingston, Senior, Communications Studies



A traditional textbook may be heavy and inconvenient to carry around campus, but unless you lose it, you can always have access to it when you need to review any material. On the other hand, if you happen to try to access your textbook online and the website is down, you’re out of luck.

“I don’t have to worry about that because I can access my textbook offline,” you say? Well, guess what? When you’re relying on technology, you’re bound to have glitches. I recall numerous times where my highlights, notes and bookmarks would inconveniently disappear the next time I would open my eTextbook on my desktop. Though one student feels that eBooks are still more dependable than a textbook in print:

CaptureI prefer eBooks over textbooks mainly for the reliability aspects of it. Its reliable in terms of the environment and it’s easier to carry around. You can have billions of books in one device. When you’re studying, you can easily search for something so it’s easier. You can take the eBook anywhere and pull it up on other devices. It’s also easier to share information with other students because you can just copy and paste it in an email. Regular books degrade over time and the print can fade but that’s not the case with eBooks. Technology advances so why shouldn’t we use it if it can help us out, especially if it’s easier to use and helps the environment. ”

– Kris Gasteratos, Junior, Biology and Neuroscience


When I first started college, I preferred purchasing eTextbooks, but after having instances where I couldn’t access them online because the site was down or I lost all of my notes from the downloaded version, I now often purchase my textbooks in a hardcopy. But, I do like the idea of having choices.

So, tell us what you think!

[yop_poll id=”1″]

Morgan Nimmons is a contributing writer for the University Press. She can be reached at [email protected].