eBooks as an option for course textbooks

by Marty Crossland on August 30, 2009

You may have missed a recent article in the Tulsa World that discussed the high cost of college textbooks. One promising option mentioned was digital (electronic) textbooks, often referred to as eBooks. I would encourage you to consider these as you choose textbooks for your next course offering, especially if you are creating or updating an online course. Read the Tulsa World article for this interesting discussion.

The most common option becoming available from many publishers is for them to create and make available to students a digital version of a full textbook. These may be available in multiple forms. The most common is a .PDF file that the student may download to a computer and read on the screen. Most also allow printing a copy by the student on their own printer. Another option is to use an online reader, where the student reads the textbook in an application online, and usually they can also print selected pages, if not the whole book. A big advantage to this approach is that these eBooks command a lower price — often less than half the cost of the same book in print form. An obvious difference is that there is no used book to resell when the student finishes the course, but the net price paid for “renting” the text (that is, the price of a new book minus the buyback price from the bookstore) is often still less, perhaps much less, for the student.

A sort of meta-publishing site now exists for finding, selecting, and buying textbooks, called CourseSmart, at www.coursesmart.com. A number of major publishers now make their eBooks available through this one-stop-shopping site for textbooks. You can select one or more textbooks for your course, and notify your students where to obtain it.

There is another option that I think has even more promise for faculty and students, especially for courses that have multiple required/recommended textbooks, and perhaps custom materials developed by the instructor. I have worked with publishers to create a custom eBook compilation for two online courses I have built. The publisher allows you to choose selected parts of multiple textbooks and compile them into a custom textbook. You can, for example, choose only the nine chapters of a 14-chapter book that you want to use, then four case studies out of a companion readings text, and four chapters from a related book. You then specify the order you want them in your course text. Finally, you can have a custom electronic cover created for your custom text. The result is just the material that you really want to cover in the course, all in one less expensive digital product.

In a recent custom text I created, I did just this. I compiled the necessary parts of three books that I found relevant to my course. The physical textbooks would have cost the student over $400 to buy as new books in the bookstore. They were able to buy my custom electronic version for $57. Wow! what a savings for the students!

A second critical benefit I discovered from this approach is that this custom eBook is now “mine” forever. I don’t actually own the copyright, but I control its lifespan. It has its own ISBN number from the publisher. And it never goes out of print or becomes a victim of edition-creep. Even if the underlying textbook(s) move to a new edition or even go out of print, the custom eBook remains available to me and my students until I decide to change the content. This is especially important to creators of online courses because of the huge investment of time it takes to create an engaging, interactive course that may be highly dependent on the text and associated materials.

The source I used to create my custom eBooks is Primis Online, a division of McGraw-Hill Publishing.

Do consider eBooks for your next textbook selection!

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