Back to School With No Books?

Some colleges give students laptops as supplements for their studies, but others are now testing out e-book readers which, under ideal circumstances should save students and institutions money. But will they really?

Last year, students at Northwest Missouri State University received Sony (Stock Quote: SNE) e-book readers and this fall, (Stock Quote: AMZN) is sponsoring a program providing e-book readers to hundreds of students in seven colleges including Princeton University and the University of Virginia to see whether they’ll actually provide savings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Why the Negative May Outweigh the Positive

In theory, e-books should be significantly cheaper and keyword search functions could eliminate the need to flip all the way through a book. Plus more frequent updates to texts means students are more likely to get the most up-to-date versions of books.

In addition, an e-book reader can lighten backpacks, reducing the chances of back pain. What’s more, e-textbooks replacing traditional textbooks saves trees and the energy needed to produce them.

As with most technology, however, convenience comes at a cost. According to The Wall Street Journal, e-book readers start at about $280, and an Amazon Kindle DX optimized for textbooks costs $489.

What’s more, e-textbooks aren’t necessarily much cheaper than old-school books. For example, Human Reproductive Biology, a textbook from Elsevier BV’s Academic Press costs $72 for a printed edition, $65 for the Kindle version and $66 from Sony’s e-book store, the Journal notes. That’s for books that can’t be shared, printed or resold and may not have the functionality to allow highlighting and taking notes. Some e-books even expire after a few months, so you can’t go back to read them later.

Until the upfront cost of a reader and the cost of e-books go down they may not be your best bet if you want to save money.

A Better Idea

As opposed to giving out e-book readers, giving students laptops allows for more functionality, which can help and hurt productivity. However, built in word processing and access to online resources, with a much cheaper netbook for example, could make for a more well-rounded, tech savvy education.

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