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Would you like paper or electronic?

While I was in class today, I had a student come up and tell me that the bookstore didn’t have the book for our course in stock.  I was thrown off by the comment and wasn’t sure exactly how to respond.  I just told the student I’d look into and let them know what I found out, but something just wasn’t right in my mind.

The first impression was that I was angry that the bookstore ran out of the book; however, that wasn’t really the issue as it wasn’t all the surprising to me.  Not that the campus bookstore is always at of books, but it does occasionally happen.  Later I realized that what was throwing me off was that the student even attempted to purchase a paper copy of the book.

To explain a bit, this course is an intro to proofs course offered for math major to help them transition into higher level mathematics.  For the course I decided to adopt the book Book of Proof.  This was a few reasons; my colleague at VCU wrote the book, the book is offered as a free .pdf download, and hard copies are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble for a price of $22.  With respect to the usual exorbitant prices for textbooks, having both a free option and an inexpensive paper copy version is very nice.  However, while I am happy the paper version is available, I’ve used similar textbook option over the past few years and over this time, I haven’t actually noticed anyone that has purchased the physical copy of the book when they’ve had the option not to.

After this realization, I was left wondering, are students using hard copies of books anymore?  And,….  I really don’t know.

Personally, I generally get both the electronic and paper copies of the all of my textbooks.  The benefit of the paper copy for me is that it is handy when students come in and ask questions.  I then have the book to put out on the desk so that we can look over the specific questions they have.  Generally I turn the book toward them so they can read it while I read it upside down.  Once you get used to writing upside down, it a really nice way to be able to face your student while your answering their questions, so I really enjoy this.  However, I can’t think of another situation where I really pull out the hard copy of my text books.

On the other hand, I pull up the eBook all the time.  In my office, I have the electronic version up so that if I’m prepping I can quickly look up external references or switch to a new subject.  In class, projecting something out of the book through the computer is much more convenient than using a document camera.  Furthermore, when going home, I don’t have to carry anything with me other than homework or tests that need to be graded because I can just pull up books on my home computer.

After analysis I had to think why I even bothered getting a paper copy of the books I use.  The answer is simple enough, since I’m a professor the publishers send me a copy for free, so I use it.  If I had to pay for the book, though, I really not sure I would.  To add some more context, I may pay the $22 to get a paper copy of book instead of getting for free.  While the $22 is infinitely times more expensive it still doesn’t seem like a terrible deal.  However, the hard copy of the Calculus book is $250, while the online MyMathLab, is only $100 and comes with the eBook.  As a student, I wouldn’t want to spend the extra money for a physical copy of the book.

What are your experiences with this?  I’d love to hear about whether primary and elementary schools are using eBooks or hard copies.  Are children being introduced to reading on iPads and Kindles early enough that by the time they are in college they are used to eBooks?  Also, while I focused on textbooks here, what are you preferences for books in leisure reading?  Do you have a large collection of books on your bookshelf, or do you store them electronically?  Let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Would you like paper or electronic?”

  1. Well, I like the e-books for leisure. But, technical books are usually best in hard copy of some sort. Paperback or hard cover does not matter to me. That allows me to highlight and go back to the sections I need to review later. Most of all, my old eyes just can’t always see the e-books as well as a real paper copy.

    1. Thanks for the reply. I can see how have technical books in paper form would help out with focusing and marking. If it’s more difficult to see the eBooks, are leisure books still fine because you don’t need to pay attention to as much detail?

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