Zehra Abbas" />
side bar
Tuesday, September 26, 2023


E-textbooks’ cheaper price tag comes at a cost to availability and reusability

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Textbooks. When I hear the word “textbooks,” I picture a stack of thick hardcover books sitting on shelves or in tall piles, opened on a desk filled with colorful sticky notes and maybe some highlighted passages. Nowadays, however, textbooks have a new image — one made up of thousands of tiny pixels called e-textbooks.

An e-textbook is like any e-book, except it is a textbook, an important factor of the college experience. It requires the use of a computer, or any electronic device capable of opening the book, and most times the Internet. Normally, students could chose which kind they preferred to use, but recently, some UH classes have made it mandatory to get the e-textbook. Usually these e-textbooks, provided by the publisher or other education companies, come with other study material, like practice tests or quizzes and flashcards.

The purpose of the extra study material is to enhance the way students learn the information for that class by helping us study. Aside from this obvious benefit, e-textbooks are better in that they are all of your heavy textbooks in one device and relatively cheaper than a physical book. These are positives for students because it is a pain to walk all over campus carrying so many textbooks, and money is always an issue in college.

It’s perfect, right? Not entirely. There are a few downsides to e-textbooks. One, while it is convenient to carry only an electronic device, a person needs to have the electronic device. Technology is on the rise, and it is very rare to meet a person who doesn’t have a computer or iPad or Nook or Kindle, but there are a few, and making it mandatory to obtain the electronic copy can be financially stressful.

Another problem with e-textbooks is that they are “usually not the lowest-cost textbook available,” according to a study by Grossmont College. It calculated the variation in cost depending on traditional textbook or e-textbook, renting or buying and selling back or not. They concluded that it is “least expensive” to buy a used printed copy and sell it back, depending on the buy-back price.

In some cases, the e-textbook with the additional study material even becomes unavailable to the student once that semester is over. It isn’t even there for the student to keep as a reference or to sell back.

This summer, I took the introductory Spanish class SPAN 1411 (SPAN 1501 equivalent at UH) at Houston Community College. We were required to buy a new, plastic-wrapped, big and floppy paperback textbook and, being a lecture-with-a-lab class, a matching workbook as well, for a total of about $130. There was no way around it. No renting, no used copy, no online copy, nothing. Not only was it expensive, it was a pain to bring to class every day, unwieldy even though the books were thinner than most books I have taken to class. And now, after I have passed all of the exams, the two books sit, or rather droop, on my shelf in my room.

This semester, I am taking the second half of the Spanish introductory course, SPAN 1502. As expected, I am required to buy a textbook and workbook, only with a twist: this time, the workbook has to be an online workbook called “My Spanish Lab,” a neat program designed by the education company Pearson as a learning tool for not just Spanish, but other classes as well. I was able to buy the textbook for very cheap on Amazon, but I have to buy the online workbook, which will only be available to me for this semester, through Pearson for $75. And then it’s gone. I won’t be able to access it after December.

It’s a choice between a book that is expensive and unwieldy but will last for as long as you want it and a cheaper and easier-to-manage alternative that you can access for only a few months, provided you also have a functioning computer, Internet and electricity.

Everything has its ups and downs; what we have to see is whether or not the benefits are worth giving up other good things. This requires doing experiments, and if something doesn’t work, improving upon it. You’ll never know how good or bad something is until you’ve tried it. Right now, UH is trying e-textbooks. We just happen to be around to test them out.

Opinion columnist Zehra Abbas is an English sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑
  • Sign up for our Email Edition

  • Polls

    What about UH will you miss the least this summer?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...