What to Consider When Choosing Paper Versus Digital Textbooks

Michele Wilson

Michele Wilson, Student & Alumni

Spending money on textbooks is inevitable. The format you choose them in, is a decision you can make depending on your preference. Some may choose traditional paper or hard copy text. This format is ideal for those who:

-    Like the feel of paper.
-    Like writing down their thoughts in ink (pencil for me).
-    Like seeing their handwritten notes on the page.

Others find it convenient to carry their book on a device, which better suites their busy schedules. With the advances in etextbooks, note taking, text highlighting, and bookmarking can all be done with digital text, just like a paper book. It all depends on your ultimate use for your books. In communications, like any other field, there is information found in textbooks that can be used as referenced material well after graduation.

When purchasing your textbooks, you should consider the format that will be best for you long term.

Both versions, hard and digital copies, have advantages. According to Rita Shea-Van Fossen, Ph.D., an educator at Nova Southeastern University, "Print textbooks may be better suited for graduate (students) ... where students need permanent reference copies, while etextbooks may make more sense for basic requirement classes or electives. It’s a decision that’s made on a course-by-course basis” (Mulvihill, 2011, pg. 34). However, this is a choice you can make, depending on your preference.

You should also consider the cost.

The textbook cost could be your biggest determinant. Amazon has made buying texts more affordable. I have found that digital versions are typically cheaper than hard text. But hardcopy bargains can be found. Those books can later be sold online or through other venues, such as BookTrader. This is an advantage paper texts has over digital. "Most students don’t resell their used etextbooks as they do with print" (Mulvihill, 2011, pg. 36). Another option is renting. Both formats can be rented from a traditional bookstore or online. This option is good when the other options are too expensive or not desired.

You may base your choice on how quickly you can get the book in your hand or on your device.

Here, the digital format is the clear winner when it comes to convenience. Though you can walk into the Purdue bookstore (for those who have that privilege) and have your book immediately. Amazon can also get a paper copy text to your door same or next day. But the easiest way could be to download the digital format to your mobile device. After payment is made, you can have your textbook available to you within minutes, from wherever you may be.

Today's graduate student has more options than just five years ago. "Students want the best of both worlds: They want print’s accessibility and annotation capabilities, but they also want mobile’s on-the-go portability and interactive tools they know and use" (Mulvihill, 2011, pg. 34).

With evolving technology, we can have both paper and digital texts with equal versatility.

Choose the format that works best for you through your academic journey and on into your career.

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Michele Wilson is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.