eReaders for Back-to-School: Should You Buy?

Courtesy of Flickr user isriyaTextbook Selection

When we review an eReader we’re careful to point out how many bestsellers are available in its online bookstore. While that’s relevant to students, we’d be remiss in not telling you how many textbooks you can read on your device. The number is growing. In fact, McGraw-Hill, a major textbook publisher, publishes 95 percent of its higher education books in digital form, and all of its elementary and high school books.

As with bestsellers, textbook selection varies by bookstore. Amazon’s Kindle store, which already boasts a high number of bestsellers and news and magazine subscriptions, also has a dedicated textbook section with more than 30,000 eBooks. Amazon sells the Kindle DX ($379), a larger, 9.7-inch eReader specially designed for reading textbooks and newspapers. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily find what you’re looking for. In an informal survey of 14 textbooks required for a host of classes in math, sociology, economics, psychology, and astronomy at three major universities (Northwestern University, Gettysburg College, and University of Pennsylvania) only one—Business Analysis Using Regression: A Casebook by Robert Stine—was available in the Kindle store. (The difference between Amazon’s price for the hardcover and Kindle versions, by the way, was less than $6.)

Barnes & Noble does not have a textbook section for its nook ($199), but it does have SparkNotes guides in eBook form. Borders, which offers its store to the Kobo eReader ($149) and the Alex ($399), also lacks an eBook textbook section on its site. While textbook publishers have inked deals with Apple, textbooks were not for sale in the iBook store as of press time, save for a scant few, which were tucked into other sections, such as “Professional and Technical.” None of our 14 test texts were available.

However, regardless of the store that a device may be attached to, you may be able to find textbooks elsewhere and still read them on your eReader. The nook, Alex, and Sony Daily Edition ($280), all support the open ePub standard, which means if you find books on an outside site, such as Coursesmart.com, you can download and read textbooks on those eReaders. Textbookrevolution.org offers PDF versions of textbooks for free to students, but the selection is limited.

The Sony Daily Edition is linked to the Sony Reader Store (ebookstore.sony.com, screenshot below), but there’s no textbook category and we found none of our test books. The Daily Edition, however, offers one perk the others do not, you can get eBooks on loan from participating libraries with digital collections. You’ll need to sign up for an Adobe.com account, and that account must be connected to the same e-mail address that you used to register the Reader in order to sync these books.

Other eReaders, meanwhile, such as the Kno (expected this Fall) and the Entourage Edge ($499), are aimed specifically at students and have their own ecosystems for books. Specifically, the Kno has partnered with the four top textbook publishers—Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Wiley—to offer the maximum number of textbooks possible. The Entourage Edge store has a dedicated eTextbook section with 14,216 available titles, but we didn’t find any of our test group of 14.

Cost of Books

Whereas most of the novels in an eBook store will have a uniform price (say, $9.99 to $14.99), the price of textbooks varies more drastically, depending on the publisher and the price of the hardcover book. Regardless, you can save a lot of money. For instance, Management (Wiley), an updated business textbook, costs $94.80 as an eBook on Amazon, and $138.25 as a hardcover.

Digital eBook selections from the Sony eReader store.

To be fair, you can buy many used textbooks for even less, although depending on how many times the book has been used already, you might not be able to recoup much of that cost anyway. If it’s a choice between saving $26 on a digital textbook up front, or buying the hardcover version and hoping to sell it back for about as much later, some people will choose to avoid carrying the heavy paper version.

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  1. aftermath Says:

    Thank you! You deserve real credit for this article. I don’t think that you can be praised too much. Your subsequent article, “Top Five eReaders For Students”, is also very good, but this article actually makes that article useful and meaningful.

    Too often these days we get “articles” like “Picking the Right Android Phone”, “How to Choose the Perfect Macbook”, and “Top 10 Netbooks” without any pretense to address the foundational issues like “Is an Android Phone Right for You?”, “Is a Macbook Right for You”, or “Is a Netbook Right for You?”. I’ve actually sensed some kind of positive editorial tilt or shift at Laptop Mag recently, and I hope that efforts like this to balance product features with actual consumer education will be part of that trend. Not only is it a very professional and responsible way to be an outlet for information about consumer technology, but it really does serve the best interests of your readers. With so many kinds of devices and variations on each kind out there, it’s becoming increasing common for people to get there hands on something that seems good, that works for others, but because they don’t really know much about what they’re getting into they get disappointed. Consumer education is more important than ever before, and it seems harder and harder to find good examples to point to, or even any examples at all. However, this article is exactly what we need, and this is a particularly well-crafted specimen at that.

    In other words, keep up the good work.

  2. Dingles Says:

    Wow, your comment was longer than the article…

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