Saturday, December 13, 2008


It has surprised me for a while now that schools, most specifically high schools and colleges, haven't led the way in the ebook revolution. Then yesterday my godson, Tommy, called to ask for good places to download classics, Hamlet and a few others, for his spring semester at a private high school. I was delighted to hear he and his classmates are welcome to use ebooks in lieu of a specific edition of these classic texts, and that he has a few teachers who have sought out text books available in the format.

It always seemed logical to me that high schools and colleges would want to jump in with both feet on this technology. Even disregarding the cost-- which would be substantial, the convenience and health benefits are huge. Rather than carting around a book bag that weighs more than most of the cheerleading squad, students could pack a light sack with a Sony E-Reader or an Amazon Kindle, some pens and pencils, and a notebook or-- better still, a netbook mini computer. Under five pounds and everything necessary for a full day of classes. Makes perfect sense to me.

Not only that, but students could purchase a reader for under $300 as incoming classmen, use it for high school, college, and grad school, and download many books for free. Certainly text book publishers would be smart to give bulk discounts. Imagine starting school in September or January, logging on to the high school home page, and downloading all your texts for the year. They don't tear, wear, get dropped in puddles, or have a place to ink "Bongo loves Daisy" with a big heart around it. How often, during debates and stump speeches, have we heard politicians bemoan the out-dated text books in struggling school systems?

Why hasn't this happened yet? Long ago many colleges required incoming students to own laptops and provided discounted models. Some even included the new computer in the tuition. And net-books, mini pc's, really evolved out of the "one laptop per child" movement that sought to provide small, scaled down, child-sized computers for kids.

I'd love to see this idea spread. It would be great for schools, great for ebook publishing, great for young people with straining spines and groaning pockets. And I'd love to hear from readers. What about you? Does your school district encourage the technology? Do you love or hate the idea?


  1. Anonymous5:59 PM

    I'm thinking e-books will really take off when the touch screen technology used on the iPhone becomes wide spread and cheap. Being actually able to turn the page by actually running your finger across the screen, or place a bookmark by touching a spot, or any of a number of things you can do with a paper book would cut down on the technophobia that keeps a lot of people away from them now.

    They would be a wonderful thing for students, I agree.

    Rob Graham

  2. I have a hard time picturing it working at the high school level. From what I've seen, some high schoolers are very hard on their belongings -- and for them, it would end up not being one e-reader that could last through grad school, but at least three e-readers a year... Textbooks can mostly survive being thrown in lockers, stomped on, dropped in the fountain, etc, but I suspect most e-readers are more delicate... :-)

  3. Anonymous9:58 PM

    I am a college student in my senior year. The first two years I was old school and killed the joints in my hands, trying to take notes. A year ago, I got a laptop and now take notes in class. What a lifesaver! Nobody should go to college without one, IMO.

    As far as the ebooks go, there aren't a lot of publishers who put them out yet. I check for every one I need to buy. Some texts have an online companion site, but 90% of them don't allow you to peruse the text that way. Some publishers put a digital edition on a site that you can only access by paying an extra $30, and that's in addition to the book. These digital versions are incredible because you can highlight and take notes in the margins, just like you can with a regular book. You can even make bookmarks! The thing is, if you don't have internet access, you're SOL. Some books I've gotten have a CD with the text on it, but all you can do is read. I guess to sum it up, they need to finesse it a lot better before it takes off.

    I would happily pay an extra $30 for a digital edition over a hardcover textbook IF I got updates for all future editions, and if it was more like a program that was installed on my PC instead of something I had to log onto online. Because I wouldn't be able to sell the book back they'd need to make it worth my money. I'm in health sciences and nothing is worse than having outdated books lying around.

    Sorry this is long! Thanks for the great post.


  4. Melb (silentdreamer)12:51 AM

    I know that a survey was done with university and college students here and it was found that most students prefer to have something concrete like a book in their hand that they can highlight and stuff... which is why McGraw hasn't gone in that direction. That being said, students do have the option now with some texts of buying an ebook version. (I have to set up the ISBNs so they -are- available, but not for every title yet). They are also working on a screen that is flexible like a sheet of paper that is like an ebook. Whether it catches on, I'm not sure but it's interesting.

  5. I love my Kindle, but I buy business books so I can highlight and decorate them w/ Post-its. It's hard for me to break that tradition, as I'm sure it's hard for college kids to imagine doing it any other way.
    I think if we started young school kids on E-readers, by the time they were in college, text books would be a thing of the past.
    And the kids in college now will be telling their kids in college, "When I was in PSU, we had to stand for hours in line at the bookstore so we could purchase 500.00 worth of books. After that, we had to haul 75 pounds of books back and forth to classes every day. And we had to walk up hill going to and coming from class."

  6. I am going to disagree with Cara for the first time probably ever.

    Almost all high school kids have cell phones. Many have DS's. More have mp3 players. Many students are required to purchase graphing calculators which are between 100-200 bucks.
    I know a lot of electronics need to be replaced--but a lot don't. The new netbooks make a lot more sense to me than multiple textbooks and paper etc.

    I got my AA online. It was wonderful to be able to turn in my assignment electronically etc. I loved it. What a relief it would have been to have all my text computerized too.