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Posted on Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Top 6 ways students say switch to electronic textbooks would affect them

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan students have mixed feelings about electronic textbooks.

The Ann Arbor school is currently in negotiations with publishers to buy electronic textbooks in bulk, part of a plan to switch many of its introductory courses to e-book use in an effort to drastically curb soaring textbook costs.

The books will be available through a university sharing program and the cost, about one-third of a new textbook, will be covered through a course fee.

A pilot of the electronic book program will be introduced next fall.

According to a March survey by the National Association of College Auxiliary Services, 75 percent of students prefer print textbooks to electronic ones.

Here's a sampling of what U-M students think the switch to electronic textbooks will bring:

1. Big savings on textbooks

Junior Lauren McIntosh spends about $1,200 a year on textbooks. That's a little over the $1,168 the average public student spends on textbooks per year, according to 2011-2012 figures from the CollegeBoard Advocacy and Policy Center.

Under U-M's e-book plan, textbooks could cost as low as $30 apiece.

"The cost would be a big thing," McIntosh said. "I pay for my textbooks myself ... and there are lots of other things you could do with that money."

2. A greater potential for distraction

"Having a textbook in front of you makes it a lot easier to be productive," said junior Justin Leidel, who said that students reading on computers will likely be tempted to check their email or social networking and news websites.

Freshman Elizabeth Bohen-Meissner agreed.

"My biggest worry is that I would be on Facebook or something else instead of reading the textbook," she said.

3. Lighter backpacks

Fact: Laptops and e-readers, such as iPads, Nooks and Kindles, weigh much less than a pile of textbooks.

"You wouldn’t have to lug around all your different books," said freshman Erin Alderink. "My backpack now gets really heavy because I have to carry my books and my laptop."

In an American Society of Safety Engineers study conducted at Indiana University, the average graduate student backpack weighed over 12 pounds.

4. Computer screen overload

In an age when a high ratio of schoolwork is already conducted via computers, some students are reluctant to read their textbooks on a computer screen or tablet.

"I don't know how I'd feel looking at a screen all the time," said McIntosh.

Alderink agreed.

"With textbooks, you can just highlight them and you don’t have to stare at a computer for a really long time," she said, adding that looking at a computer screen for too long "hurts my eyes."

With the proposed U-M e-book project, students could receive a print version of a book for an additional $20 to $35.

5. Students can access more resources

Electronic books often allow professors to add links, notes and even videos into the text, making reading a more interactive experience for students.

With U-M's proposed program, faculty can mix and match different textbooks, allowing them introduce different perspectives and teaching methods.

"It’s very unusual that there's one textbook that does the best at everything," said Paul Courant, U-M's dean of libraries.

Sophomore Rachael Mack called the switch "more effective" in that regard.

6. Information may become harder to absorb

But Mack said that information might be harder to retain when gathered through a screen.

"It's easy to scan through something on a computer and not really read it," she said. "With computers, it's harder to concentrate because you're just staring at a screen."

Engineering professor Rachel Goldman, a member of the faculty Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, echoed this concern.

"If you download something on your computer you kind of think you read it even if you didn't," she said.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

I think they should test this idea out on elementary kids first where it is not so expensive and the heavy backpacks are much more of a threat to their little bodies. You can highlight with a Kindle and mark pages and refer back, I think it is a matter of attitude and comfort level. A choice would be nice.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

E-readers are another example of technology that offers absolutely no useful answer to a problem. People like e-readers for search-ability? It's called an index (and a table of contents). It's cheaper? All a person buys when purchasing an e-book is a file (and in some cases only access to a file) that is dependent upon often expensive devices that will need replaced or be obsolete in 18 months. There was a time when books were affordable, it is utterly naive to believe that e-books will remain "affordable" once corporate America sees that large universities are switching to e-readers. I mean honestly, someone name a commodity that hasn't been exploited by corporate greed. I cannot argue that an e-reader is not lighter than textbooks; toughen up or buy a pull-along. As for the environmental friendliness of e-readers over books I don't have any data to support my stance, but it is my intuition that this probably isn't true either. At the rate with which we replace electronics it seems unlikely that all of that non-biodegradable waste, on top of the pollution involved in producing new gadgets every 6 months, is any more "green". For me, the bottom line is that when I buy an e-book, I have purchased nothing tangible. I cannot protect my possession of that information from the people who produce the e-reader specific to that file, or anyone who may want to censor my access to that information in the future. E-readers and e-books are good for one demographic only, the people running the companies who produce the devices. Devices which add nothing to society or the learning experience. Except that those who produce them have convinced the gullible consumers otherwise.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

An index is absolutely sufficient to a student who closely reads the material he purportedly wants to learn. The only problem the search function in an e-reader solves is the problem of the pseudo-student who doesn't want to read the material. I never mentioned intellectual property and fail to see the relevance of its introduction in your argument against my statement. Yes, we have always paid for content theoretically, but my argument is the nature of that content - an e-book is not tangible. Furthermore, the "savings" you believe are accrued from removing the need for people to be paid to produce and distribute the books will, I assure, be paid into corporate profits not your pocket in the future, i.e. the price of e-books will sky-rocket once demand and competition reach optimal levels.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

An index couldn't possibly contain every word or phrase in the entire book. What we're paying for is content. We maintain the right to use the content, and most devices are somewhat compatible these days. What we're saving is the cost of the paper, the printing process and the delivery. If you don't believe in intellectual property, you probably don't see the savings here.

Tom Teague

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

My son is using a tablet computer and rented ebooks for all of his classes at another school: Loves it. Swears he never wants to go back to hard copies. He told me that the ability to search entire texts for key words that he needs to review is a real benefit to his learning. I can attest that it certainly is less expensive.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

Nice to see more educated opinions in this thread than the knee jerk ones in the last.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:50 p.m.

Many families are complaining because the cost of higher education keeps increasing, well ahead of the pace of inflation. This is one way to catch up just a little bit. Stands to reason that more kids will get the opportunity to go to college with every hundred dollars saved. At some point, all of society will have to adjust to reading on an electronic reader. It saves money, it provides more immediate access to material, and it's better for the environment.

Steve Pierce

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

Eliminates entirely the resale market. So if you figure you got 25 to 50% back on your books when you resold them, then the savings needs to reflect that. But watch, after a couple of years the e-textbooks will be the same or more as current text books.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

When I was a UofM Undergrad (graduated in 2001) I would have LOVED to have this as an option! I know, it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I tend to remember things I read on the computer better than those I read in books... and I can keep them with me to boot. In fact I read the Steve Jobs biography on my iPhone, loved it and the medium! As for those bringing up the cost... given the HUGE discount on the cost of the books (I remember the textbooks for my first Chem class at UofM setting me back $300, I'm sure they aren't cheaper now!) even if you went full-bore with an iPad 2 you'd still come out WAY ahead of having to actually buy the books at full cost. It would take at most a semester or two to break even, and you'd still have a very useful accessory to boot! As for distractions... I tried studying in the library, once. It was a disaster. I simply would hole up in my bedroom (with a computer that had access to the internet the entire time) and study there. Again, different things work for different people, but if I was able to balance it during the infancy I'm sure those growing up with it their entire lives can balance it. Then again that was before Facebook... but really, if you can't focus on your studies regardless of what format they're in the problem has more to do with you picking courses you aren't interested in (or being forced to take them as pre-reqs) than with the format you're reading it in.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

My niece went to a college in Oregon that offered e-books. She said many students chose that option and did not regret it, especially those students who used a e-reader like a Kindle. It was not a distraction. I have a Kindle, and it is easy to make bookmarks, highlights, and notes. I can create and manage different collections (make up my own categories). It just takes a little practice to get used to the functions. The biggest benefits for students I think are: less cost; less weight to carry around; and a portable personal library. This should be piloted at the Ann Arbor High Schools as well.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

Lots of interesting concerns expressed in the article and comments, but precious few thoughts about what the potential could be for using ebooks in many applications. One comment mentioned graphics -- charts, diagrams, etc -- as being a possible downside, but what about upside potential: include interactive graphics where the student could investigate the impact of changed assumptions on the result. That would be an opportunity to really learn within the text book itself. What about the time and energy that could be saved by linking a student team via ematerials and being able to share work online? How could these materials be used to enhance that kind of work? With the "Googlization" of the libraries on campus the opportunity to integrate base materials like textbooks with deeper explanatory materials from the U's excellent library system could be enhanced. As for the downside of employment in the book making industry we can certainly look back at other life-changing technological changes -- we don't tend to mourn the buggy whip business or the carburetor business because newer technologies made them less necessary and provided a lot more employment in other areas. I love books and probably always will. The books I own I treasure. I have some of my favorite textbooks from college, too, but while they are a sentimental favorite on my shelves I also recognize that they are outdated and not the best source of information on those subjects. As for environmental impact we should not minimize the reusability and recyclability of electronics. I toured such a recycling facility in Chicago several years ago (United Recycling). They disassemble computers and other electronics, remove chips from boards for use in lesser applications, grind up everything and separate out the metals, refine and recover the precious metals, and generally use virtually everything. They recovered nearly two ounces of gold per ton of scrap -- comparable to gold mining.

Lynn Liston

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

I love my Kindle, but am not sure that e-readers should completely replace the physical book for courses. I remember my student days when there might be a graph or chart on one page, with several pages of related text following. One flipped from chart to paragraph often, making notes in the margin and highlighting. I'm not sure how this would work on a standard e-reader such as the Kindle. Perhaps on a tablet or PC one could 'place' the page with the chart, keeping it visually open on-screen for quick reference. Studying requires more visualization and multi-source access than simply reading. I also recall working on research papers with up to 7 books lying open on the table scanning from one to the other looking for those quotable passages... As has been noted, studying is a different process than 'reading', and while I think e-readers like Kindle, Nook, etc are great for reading, they don't provide the immersive environment that studying requires. It would be interesting to see what students who took an e-reader based course have to say and to see how many of them printed out a lot of the material.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

I have a different headline" Top ways electronic books affect your job" The Printing/paper industry is still one of the largest in the country. The industry employs thousands and thousands of people. Washtenaw county is still one of the largest book producing areas in the country. Thousands more work at paper mills, which get a underserved bad rap, paper is a renewable resouce computers are not. If we are uncertain whether this new e book is the right thing or not, we better figure it out beffore it's too late. We need to keep people employed in this country not look for ways to put them out of work. Most of these electronic gadgets are made outside of this country, keeping those folks working. If we are not careful we will have more unemployed people here then employed.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

Ridiculous. You basically have just said lets go back to horse and buggys because a certain segment of the population is put out of work. Lets not cue TB because iron lung manufacturers will suffer. Electronic manufacturers are also a large employer in this country. So your idea that it puts people out of work is dishonest. It may put certain industries out of business, but that happens with progress. When I was in school we had mimeograph paper, and carbon copies. How are those industries today?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Excellent post, spot-on.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

I'm a graduate student. I love electronic textbooks -- they're lighter, cheaper, and searchable. Distractions are possible, but that's what software like Leechblock is for. They're only harder to use if you're not used to using them. I was very hesitant to use ebooks for the reasons listed in the comments, but trying them for a semester -- and being able to read any of my texts, anywhere, without having to carry 22 pounds of books (I weighed them), outweighs any of the possible downsides. Using paper texts is like printing out all your journal articles -- who does that anymore?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:24 p.m.

I still print journal articles so that I can read them.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

Wikipedia article on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451"; this is an excerpt from the plot summary: "He tells Montag that interest in books declined gradually over several decades as the public embraced mass-marketed new media and a quickening pace of life. Books became despised for their controversial content, and the government outlawed them with little resistance." Something to think about...........


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

Bradbury's issue there is television, not ebooks. This is a difference of format, not content.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

A highlighted book is forever in my library. How long is the U's subscription? When in future years will it be cancelled for economic or popularity reasons?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Not necessarily true, Jake C. The pilot program UM ran last year was based on students renting ebooks for a semester at a time. Once the semester was up, the book was gone.

Jake C

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

A highlighted book can be forever in your library, if you really care to keep it. Most students choose to sell their books back to a second-hand reseller, at a massive loss. If I can buy an e-Textbook for $30, or buy a textbook for $120 and re-sell it for $60, I'll take the e-Book.

Lac Court Orilles

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

Any reading specialist will tell you that underlining, highlighting, writing notes in the margins greatly improves retention. How would a person do these three things on a computer screen?

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Any reading specialist? So you can quote studies? Or are you just giving your own opinion and attaching mythical specialists to give it what you think is authority?

Jake C

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Believe it or not, you can actually highlight & make notes on sections with books loaded in various eReader apps. It may depend on the Digital Protection embedded within the document, but there's no reason you can't "virtually highlight" a given passage in an eBook and write something in the "virtual margins".

Linda Peck

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

I have recently finished an on-line course of two years' duration. We used both electronic information and books. I go to both, but enjoy books more. They are very good books, highly regarded in the field, and not textbooks. I am not sure I feel the same about textbooks. As I remember them, they are fairly dry things. Going to the source of the information is a good thing, when possible. Having a useful library at hand in book form is satisfying. Electronic information is quick and efficient. These are both desirable methods of study.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Both have their place but I can't read a screen for very long without my eyes getting sore. Some content, such as novels, may work well on a screen but I spend my time reading heavy mathematical content which doesn't work well on a screen. Flipping back and forth, making notes, and having multiple books open at once is much easier with books. In fact, if what I need to read is on a screen, I print it so that I can read it. Technology is great but it never works for everything.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Small point of contention, but: are these really the "top" concerns students have or just the six anecdotes that this reporter came across? I don't mean to be snarky, but I taught a class of 20 students last year at UM with etextbooks and between them and my research, the top concerns I've come across are economics, environmental concerns, and access issues. Only the first one is on this list, which makes me skeptical. Why not talk to students who already experienced this? Until then this list sounds more like topical--but not yet "top"--concerns.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

What is going to happen to all of the backpack makers and sellers? With no books to carry, Backpacks will go the way of the Buggy Whips! Just think of all of the "Working Families" that will become unemployed just because some students wanted to save a few dollars?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

I'm sure most textbook suppliers can or will soon be able to supply students with both electronic and paper versions. No need for the UM to select one format over the other. Students will choose what is best for them. Xanedu Publishing, an Ann Arbor based course pack producer already offers course packs in both versions <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

One thing I really love about the Kindle is that it has a dictionary (Oxford), and all you have to do is put the cursor in front of a word to get a short def. There is a button to push if you want more, and you pop right into the dictionary. I love it, even for fiction. Also, you can highlight sections and it saves the material in one spot so you can review it easily. Better than highliting. Still, I LOVE REAL BOOKS. I also wonder about pictures and graphsa and other such material in a textbook. I think the book would handle it better, though you can &quot;blow up&quot; a picture with the Kindle.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

When I read a book, I wish to turn a page. There are tons of folks who do not wish to have to use electronic equipment to read. And along with that, let's put tons of other folks out of jobs i.e. printing shops, book makers, etc. Electronics are nice, but, in my opinion, they should not be the only option. And, there are folks who just can't afford devices. Oh yes, one more important item in my mind, a book never breaks down or overloads.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

1.&quot;When I read a book, I wish to turn a page&quot; The world does not revolve around you. From the article &quot;students could receive a print version of a book for an additional $20 to $35.&quot; 2. &quot;There are tons of folks who do not wish to have to use electronic equipment to read&quot;. There are tons of folk who prefer to read electronically. SO? This gives people a CHOICE 3. &quot;let's put tons of other folks out of jobs i.e. printing shops, book makers,&quot; And we should not use cars since they put buggy whip manufacturers out of business. A ridiculous argument. If a student can take the $1100 they spend on books and now buy clothes, food, tutoring, music or more books why is that a bad thing. 4. &quot;Electronics are nice, but, in my opinion, they should not be the only option&quot; If you read the article you would see it is not the only option 5. &quot;there are folks who just can't afford devices&quot; Let's see, average cost per semester for books is currently over $1100. New system at an average cost of $30 (per the article) means a student could buy 20 books, and still have $500 left over to buy a reader. Oh, and that reader can be used for an entire four year education. This is the worst argument that could be made. 6. &quot; more important item in my mind, a book never breaks down or overloads.&quot; Really? So if in the middle of spring there is a rain storm and a book gets dropped in as puddle it wont be damaged. If there is a fire it can not be damaged. Pages never get ripped out of a book. Drinks can never get spilled on them


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

Affordability is not the issue here. You can get a Kindle for $79, which I assure you is a lot cheaper than some of the textbooks students are forced to buy.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:21 p.m.

I understand the rest of what you are saying, but if the students have more ready money, I don't think they invest it. They will buy other things that they need or have enough money to by an extra pizza or whatever with the money they don't spend on books. Considering the price of a college textbook these days, that could be a bunch of money.

John Reed

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Memory development and recall is so intertwined with context (including general location, objects in the immediate surroundings, sounds, smells, etc.) I would be concerned with not having different &quot;books&quot; with which to associate different topics while long-term memories are developing. It seems like this would make it more difficult for the brain to recall topical information when studying - because all of the student's reading had taken place with the same &quot;book&quot; and therefore can't be subconsciously filtered for easier access to the topic at hand. My fears might be unfounded, of course; this is just my educated guess. I hope someone does some serious study of this concept before very many schools make a jump to electronic textbooks.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

I agree. When I try to remember something from a book, I often &quot;see&quot; the location on the page. For instance, when reading fiction and a name comes up and I don't remember who that person is, I scan the part of the book where I think it first came up, and only look at the part of the page that has that name in it. I think this would be a loss with the ebook. Of course, I love the Kindle's power to search for a word in the text for me, but in remembering things, the page matters to me.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

I'm a big fan of Kindle, and with it I have read literally hundreds books I never knew existed nor would I have ever read - mostly Victorian and Edwardian era. And the information and history regarding the era are things I never learned from any textbook nor would they be included - Michael Faraday's treatise on electricity, for instance. In addition to reading first-hand accounts, I love looking up the names of unknown authors about whom I knew nothing - it's amazing how so many of them are connected to things that are of some historical significance or curiosity. Following the threads of their lives in historical events is great entertainment and informative. That being said, I would never wish to substitute a Kindle or computer screen for a textbook. One can't flip back and forth and cross reference on electronic devices as quickly or as easily as with books, which is important. What I've learned using the Kindle and computer is mostly throw-away information, enjoyable to do, but it's retained only a short time. A year from now, I'll have forgotten nearly everything I remember about an author. Textbook lessons stick with one for years, if even only in the subconscious - to be recalled at unexpected times when a need for it presents itself.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:04 p.m.

When I asked my college student, textbook or ebook, without hesitation he said he would get the textbook. He said it was easier with a book because it was much easier to reread, scan, leaf back to find information, and in general user friendly. He has an ereader. So he knows about reading with both. He is a computer native, not an computer immagrant like me, so I bow to his expertise.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

And this program still allows him that ability. How many articles on Consumerist complain about high text book costs and say the Universities are in bed with the book companies. UM searches for a solution and some people do not like that. It is the same as if you prefer to read harry Potter on the page, while I prefer it on my Kindle, one is not right or wrong.