Tablets vs. Textbooks: E-Text Use on the Rise

The use of electronics in university and college coursework is proliferating, according to a number of reports released this week. College students can save as much as $60 per title by using e-textbooks, reports digital course materials provider; and market researcher Simba Information forecasts e-texts will grow at a CAGR of 48.5 percent by 2013.

Yesterday, an article in The Wall Street Journal reported iPads were being used at some universities as a substitute for textbooks. Widespread use of mobile devices and improved functionality is one for the reasons electronics are catching on quickly at colleges and universities.

It turns out that textbook publishers are making their material easily available in digital format. (I had a question about that in yesterday's blog: The Pros & Cons: Tablets vs. Textbooks.) Individual publisher Websites and e-textbooks providers such as offer more than 90 percent of the most popular higher education course materials in use today.

In addition to lower cost, portability, and anytime/anywhere access from any computer or Web-enabled mobile device, e-textbooks offer advanced search functionality, note-taking capabilities, digital highlighting, and the ability to email passages to peers. Students can also purchase their books one chapter at a time on some publishers' Websites, buying just what they need, just when they need it.

According to research by the National Center for Academic Transformation, the latest course technologies, coupled with course redesign, can decrease dropout rates by as much as 34 percent while lowering the colleges and universities' cost per pupil for instruction by 37 percent.

In addition to CourseSmart's e-textbooks, students have the option to purchase a broad range of course materials on publishers' Websites. The Websites of publishers like Bedford Freeman and Worth, Cengage Learning, CQ Press, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Wiley, WW Norton and offer students their books in numerous lower-cost formats. developed several free Apps that can be downloaded via iTunes and enable students to access their e-textbooks on an iPad, iPhone, and/or iPod Touch.

The research information from and Simba Information was compiled by the Association of American Publishers.

19 comments on “Tablets vs. Textbooks: E-Text Use on the Rise

  1. DataCrunch
    January 25, 2011

    Barbara, I wish tablets were around when I was in school rather than lugging around a bunch of books.  This is the future, in fact who knows several years from now, students may not even need to attend classes at all anymore too. 

  2. Clairvoyant
    January 25, 2011

    Having a tablet to replace many, many books is definitely much more convenient. Also, the potential cost savings are a great advantage. Buying textbooks for college and university is a very large expense as it is right now.  

  3. Taimoor Zubar
    January 26, 2011

    Apart from the cost savings, I think the major advantage is the ease of use and interactivity. As opposed to static text on the books, digital content is much easier to read, browse, and search. Also, the animated nature makes the experience highly interesting.

  4. Tam Harbert
    January 26, 2011

    It all sounds great, but there are some very real, practical barriers to digital textbooks. The entire school curriculum is built upon traditional textbooks and it will take many years to change. In fact, students gave the Kindle a failing grade in pilot tests at several college campuses last year. Although technically a user can “annotate” a digital textbook, it's awkward. Much easier to jot notes in the margins on paper.  Plus, the huge textbook publishers are still trying to figure out the business model by which they can protect their profits. Don't expect them to just release digital copies of those $250 textbooks!

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 26, 2011

    Hi Tam–agreed–I can't see why or how textbook publishers would just “give away the farm” without figuring out how to derive revenue. I think that is one thing that is going to hold back widespread adoption of e-readers and e-text for use at colleges and universities.

    I'd be curious to know how publishers that currently provide e-materials charge for them.

  6. Parser
    January 26, 2011

    There is a one major problem with eTextbook format. It requires internet connection for downloadable books.

    I can see that textbook publishers will have much lower printing and distribution overhead for an electronic version than a printed one. The price can be reduced preserving the same profit margins. 

  7. Susan Fourtané
    January 27, 2011


    Thanks for yet another great article! 

    Reading your previous blog I was wondering if you were going to do a follow-up. This is a very timely and important topic, indeed. 

    “In addition to lower cost, portability, and anytime/anywhere access from any computer or Web-enabled mobile device, e-textbooks offer advanced search functionality, note-taking capabilities, digital highlighting, and the ability to email passages to peers. Students can also purchase their books one chapter at a time on some publishers' Websites, buying just what they need, just when they need it.” 

    I believe the paragraph above  summarizes pretty well  the benefits of e-textbooks inclusion and adoption in education. 

    I love paper books very much, the feeling of touching them, the smell of the old books that carry so much story and history, in some cases. The relaxing feeling of sitting in a comfy chair sipping a cup of tea with a book. Books are becoming part of a romantic idea, though, a scene where you sense a warm feeling when you see your books on the bookshelf or when reading them. At least, that's how I feel. At the same time I have to say that if I were to choose between e-textbooks or paper books for studying I have no doubt that e-books are, by far, the best and most practical option today. After all, I can still have my paper books for enjoyment when I want to read a good story, novel or a good non-fiction work in my spare time. I believe paper books will become more special, part of a different dimension, a different time, a different experience. A different relationship book-reader will emerge. 

    Some time ago I took part in an art project that consisted of going to the Finnish National Library, picking up a volume of a French encyclopedia from the 1700s and flipping the pages following the conceptual visual artist instructions. Fifty people took part in the project. After 10 minutes, the smell of the old books that had been closed for so long started to fill the room. I cannot well tell you the amazing feeling of touching those pages, one by one, feeling the difference in texture and ink in pages of the same volume, the diagrams and drawings were so different to what we see in today's books, not to mention the highly advanced graphics in electronic formats. It was a wonderful experience, indeed. How many times one has the chance to see, touch, smell, live a book of that kind? How many hands touched it before? What kind of energy has it been carrying along these centuries? 

    So yes, I love paper books. But I also value the advancement of technology to make the learning process more at ease with the times we live today and the times the future generations will face. We cannot deny the future generations the possibility of a quick access to the world's information or the possibility of learning more in less time which is also what I see using e-textbooks. Not accepting the emerging e-textbooks would be like saying that humanity did better writing on stone or cave walls centuries ago. 

    This is just part of the natural evolution of humanity. Those who can't adapt will find it difficult to survive. 


  8. Susan Fourtané
    January 27, 2011


    I agree. Not only for not lugging around with a bunch of books but also for making the research work a lot faster and easier. Today we can have all the information we need at our fingertips. 

    Virtual classrooms are already being adopted and used by some schools/universities. Most likely in some years' time students won't have to attend physical classrooms anymore.


  9. Anand
    January 27, 2011

    Barbara nice article, along with the all the advantages of e-text that you explained in your article one more advantage is : “SAVE PAPER”. This helps us go green. I think all the colleges should adopt this.

  10. stochastic excursion
    January 28, 2011

    Interesting point that a book's appeal goes beyond the visual.  A related point is that in many higher-end magazines, quite a bit of effort goes into getting the texture and fragrance of the pages just right.  Difficult to duplicate this experience with an e-reader.

  11. Susan Fourtané
    January 28, 2011

    Difficult to duplicated, indeed. But would there be a reason why an e-reader should duplicate the experience we can have with a book? I believe it's just better to accept the e-reader/tablet as an alternative, a different means of obtaining the same results –or better in the case of the text books Vs. e-books presented here. 

    And yes, it was quite an experience. That's why I think books will become romantic, something to experience, something to feel or something through which we would be able to recall memories and feelings. That is the future of books. 


  12. Hardcore
    January 29, 2011

    The biggest problem with E readers is  that they cannont be 'spread out' the same way a number of books can be,   when studying at higher degree level it is often necessary to  utilize multiple sources at the same time, without 'flipping' between pages/ books.

    Iv'e spent more than a few nights with a desk full of books all opened at the same time on different pages, working with an e-reader is just too distracting in this sort of environment, since you spend more time managing the material and flipping between sections/ books.


    I love technology, but we just are not there yet, perhaps in another decade, when we have 'mental' projection , where the material can be projected into our 'visual' area and no longer limited by the  x/y co-ordinates of the interface, then just maybe they will be useful.


    We are close really close, but just not there yet.



  13. Susan Fourtané
    January 29, 2011

    Texture and fragrance will remain exclusive to books unless or until they develop something like an e-reader/tablet with sensors able to trigger the senses of smell and touch through electromagnetic impulse transforming the information gathered into somatic. Everything the brain knows or reacts to comes to it in only one way: through the senses. <- this is an interesting read by Richard F. Taflinger, PhD. 

    Here's the link again  

    Suggestion to editors : What about making the links orange colored instead of dark blue? 🙂 


  14. Susan Fourtané
    January 29, 2011

    Good point. What about exercising mental adaptation? This is what we need in order to develop the new abilities required to replace the way of using multiple sources (books) you have described.

    You can open the same e-book several times in all the different sections/pages you need, it's not hard to “flip” from one section to the other just with a click. You can't do that with a book unless you have several copies of the same book. 🙂


  15. Hardcore
    January 30, 2011

    I see and understand your point, but mental adaption is one thing, sticking square wheels onto your vehicle just to be fashionable is another matter, computers are here to assist people, not the other way round, once we are on that slippery path it will be difficult to change.

    This is one of the major reasons apple has been so sucessful, it is the high level intergration making peoples lives easy that is the source of their success.

    Ipod…. music store… I pad… application store, plus the cross-platform integration, related to look and feel, it is consistent across the platforms and into OS X.

    If  one 'monitor' solutions were possible and mental adaption was possible to the level we are discussing, then there would be no need for more than one monitor on a computer, there would be no need for stock traders to use upward of six monitors at a time.


    We have in-fact hit a major bottle neck in both input and output systems, that is limiting a reduction in device size and usability.

    The next great innovation will be related to input-output systems, and ultimately it will be  industry changing at a fundamental level.


  16. Susan Fourtané
    January 30, 2011

    Of course! But in what way do you see people assisting computers? Adaptation is always a response to a change and a process of evolution. The ones who are not able to adapt are left behind. And this happens in all the spheres of the life that humanity has created, including technology. 


  17. hwong
    January 30, 2011

    I can understand the convenience of e-text in place of textbook for classroom. Students no longer have to carry 10lb load in their backpacks. What the drawback is with e-text, is that it is impossible to just write notes on the fly and highlight as students study the materials in great length. If the manufacturer of e-text can make that capability happen, I think that it will be much more user friendly

  18. t.alex
    February 6, 2011

    E-text does relief the burden of carrying a whole stack of books for students, but taking notes on the fly is nowhere near taking on a real text book. I find having a real textbook is still a better choice. 

  19. nathandavidson
    September 17, 2018

    While I can see the obvious benefit that there is for using digital technology for educational purposes, I think that there should be an age restriction to when kids can start using  tablets and computers for their education. After all, all it takes is some joker to get onto the Wikipedia page and edit everything on that open source channel for all of your knowledge on that subject to be wrong. We have to know where else to get our information from, you know?

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