What’s the deal with eTextbooks?

One of my 2013 achievements is to complete five Project Management courses. I’ve just signed up for two courses and have learned that both courses include eTextbooks as part of the required learning materials. Fabulous! I can throw it on my tablet and take it around with me more easily than a big textbook.

Then, I went onto the local college bookstore’s website and checked out the prices of the two eTextbooks: almost $200 in total. At this point, I’m having mixed feelings. In my mind, the digital textbook should cost about half of what the physical textbook would cost. Less printing costs, no transportation costs, etc.

A quick search on the internet tells me that eBooks cost so much because the physical production of the book actually only accounts for a smaller chunk of the total cost of a book and nifty technology that does things like prevent piracy add to the cost. At the same time, I’m recalling discussions, or rather, educational moments years ago with my university professors where I learned about publishers wooing professors to use their textbook as the required reading material with free copies of textbooks (the same ones that hundreds of their students would have to pay $$$ for), teaching material, etc. A few of my very conscientious professors refused to buy into the scheme and went without textbooks, to the chagrin of some of the keenest students (“but professor, what will we do if we can’t read ahead of the class?”). So in my mind, all textbooks – digital and print – are already inflated in price.

However, the eTextbooks would still cost about $60 in total less than the two paper textbooks would, not to mention that digital books weigh a lot less, so I’m still semi-onboard with purchasing the eTextbooks.

Next, I’m wondering how eTextbook technology works. Can I read the material on an iPad or do I need a Windows-enabled computer? Can I read it offline or do I have to read it online? Such logistics were soon to be overridden by the content of an email I receive from the college, welcoming me to my two courses and informing me about the required learning materials. Sure enough, there were the two eTextbooks listed. So far, so good. Underneath the title of the book, I find the following note:

Please note purchasing an eTextbook usually means that you are renting the eTextbook or eResource for a certain period of time. When your rental period is over, your eTextbook will become inaccessible.

Excuse me!? Let me get this straight. I am spending $200 on two eTextbooks that I will only have access to for up to 12 months!! Does this make any sense to anyone!? At least with a print copy, I am spending $260 for two textbooks that I will theoretically have infinite access to.

Here is a link to what is supposed to be a helpful infographic on the shift to a digital dorm, as found on the website of the eTextbook provider.

I understand the money savings (my eTextbooks cost $60 less than the print copies), I understand the increased flexibility with the use of digital technology for accessing textbooks, but I do not understand the model of expensive rental eTextbooks. I thought by paying $200 for eTextbooks, I was purchasing access rights to a copy of the book…but not TEMPORARY rights. What am I really paying for?


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