E-Textbooks: Why I prefer destroying nature?


Allow me to let you in on a well-kept secret. Here at InstaScribe, we are pro e-book. Yes, that is the absolute truth and we do hope that you will trumpet this far and wide. Another truth that is not always acknowledged is that e-books are far from perfect.

We have touched on this issue a few times in the past. We have mentioned now and then the shortcomings of e-books that make them at least for now a far cry from “Kindle made from trees” Zen Scribe calls them.

In this post, we will be looking at e-text-books, specifically.

The Good:

Weight: “In my time,” says the ancient Zen Scribe, “we were at risk of damaging our young and tender backs carrying all those weighty text books.” True, in the West, regular visits to the locker takes care of this. Even so, now you can carry hundreds of books in your Kindle, iPad, etc. without adding a milligram to the weight. It will also eliminate that lengthy trek to your locker.

Price: McGraw-Hill, giants in the text book industry, claim that they can sell e-textbooks for 60% less than printed text books. (Cynical Scribe: Then why don’t they?)  A random search on Amazon will show you that there is no clear trend when it comes to the pricing of e-textbooks. The prices are either the same, much cheaper or more expensive. (Ironically, the paper version of The Environment and You is nearly three times cheaper than the paper free Kindle version for US buyers!)

Some printed books are published in Third World Countries as special low-priced editions, whereas e-books are priced uniformly across the globe. Contrary to the expectations of buyers, this  also leads to  e-book pricing being higher in many territories compared to print books.

We expect that e-books will become cheaper over time. Remember that e-books are still relatively new. This means that there are many things for us, as an ecosystem, to learn. Even differential pricing is being experimented with. Amazon, for example, gives you an option to have a different (presumably lower!) price for India compared to US or Europe.

Green: While admitting that the final verdict is not out yet, we do find signs that e-books might be more ecologically friendly in the long run than traditional books. The guys at The New York Times, well at least some of the guys, and yes this most probably also includes the ladies, estimate that

“With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books; with human health consequences, it’s somewhere in between.”

The Bad:

Page 24: Navigating an e-book is not nearly as easy as turning pages in a book. Going to a specific page, chapter or sub chapter is not nearly as straight forward as you would expect.  It takes time to move from one location to another. This is surprising and inconvenient. Surprising since a text book is rarely read sequentially. Inconvenient, because it takes much more time. This is even more so in the class where a lecturer might highlight a passagewherever he chooses.

Did you mean Page 32? : There seems to be a lack of coordination between the way pages or locations are referred to by different readers. Kindle with its own secret sauce, so also i-Whatever and the rest. Lecturers do not want to waste time on your software problems.

Notes: It is true that you can add notes to most (if not all) e-books. You can highlight/underline something important, but it is cumbersome and slow. We all agree that Kindle and Nook are primarily e-readers, but a text book requires more than just reading.


The VERY Ugly:

One Size fits One: So Santa Claus slipped the newest “New Thing” into your Christmas stocking. The only problem is that now you will have to “re-buy” all your text books that are in another format. DRM and the proprietary format of some e-books might mean that they won’t work on your new gadget. It’s like the publisher demanding that you buy a new text book because you have new glasses or contacts! Absurd!


My main gripe with e-textbooks is that they are not comfortable to use. Do you remember that old car you had ages ago, or that outdated PC? You had to know exactly how to use it. Your thumb here, while you push that thingy with your toe, and bump the whatchamacallit with your hip.

That was fine because you slowly got used to the growing lists of issues, but with e-textbooks you buy something new that does not exactly work as it should!

What then, is the solution? On the one hand you might need better hardware and software. This, in turn, raises the issue of Enhanced e-books. Perhaps enhanced e-textbooks will make the grade? What do you say?

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