Ebooks – Positives, Issues and Pitfalls

This blog post explores the progress of technology in education in relation to the learning resources provided for students.  From published paper textbooks that were converted to ebooks, education now looks towards self publication by the subject matter expert.  We have been introducing ebooks into the classroom for some times over traditional paper books.  With the proliferation of personal computers and mobile devices, the ebook became popular due its reduced cost, easy of deployment, updatability and green credentials. We are helping students by reducing cost, being green and allowing on-demand personal access and, as a result, the day of the textbook is over.

From textbooks to ebooks, history repeats itself

On the first day of school, back in my day in the 1970s, we were given our textbooks and required to take them home and cover them with brown paper, to protect and personalize them.  We were not allowed to write in them as they would be passed to the next batch of students as they had been passed to us; they were a valuable commodity; we could only personalize the cover.  As a result, the more creative among us had works of art on our textbooks but there were no notes inside, we would be punished for this and our parents charged for new books.  All our notes were taken in a similarly covered notebook, which our parents kept to embarrass us with in later life.  The textbook was a thing of reverence and I used them regularly because they were my only source of information outside the classroom and library.

On the first day of college in the late 1980s, I remember receiving a list of textbooks with instructions to go to the college bookstore and buy them all.  They would be mine to keep forever, unless I entered the black market of old but still valid books, complete with lecture annotations.  I did not need to cover them and I could write all over them.  This was something of an epiphany as when the professors referred to something I could annotate right there on the page.  The textbook was a personal item and I used them regularly because they were my only source of information outside the classroom and library.

During my MBA in the 1990s, the list of textbooks remained, however they came by mail order.  The textbook remained a personal item however as the internet was emerging, research was no longer limited to the textbook, so I used it less often that I would have before because they were not my only source of information outside the classroom and library.

During my MSc in the 2000s, the list of textbooks remained, however they came via an online order.  The textbook remained a personal item however as the internet had emerged, research was entirely possible via the internet, I rarely used the textbooks because they were not my main source of information outside the classroom and library.

Today, for PhD studies, I only use ebooks and I’m satisfied with that.  I find searching ebooks, the same as the internet, means that I can be a much more efficient researcher, and I use them regularly as a result because they were not my only source of information outside the classroom and library but I could use them in a personalized manner.

So as a student I’m engaged with ebooks more than I ever was with textbooks.  Am I representative of all students?  A recent news article claimed “92 Percent of College Students Prefer Reading Print Books to E-Readers” (Robb, 2015) and argued that the decision by educational institutions to use ebooks was based on cost to the student, convenience and the environment, which is inappropriate.

From expensive to cheap

Browse any online book store that offers both paper and electronic copies of books and the majority will display a saving on the electronic version (e.g. amazon.com).  This makes perfect economic sense as there are no physical production costs.  This good news for the student and the institution as “ebooks can help bring costs down for school districts that deal with increasing budget deficits” (Brown, 2012), however some educators argue that the associated costs of technology and teacher training could make ebooks a more expensive solution for the institution (Tucker, 2009).

From a student’s perspective, a personal device would be needed that supports the ebook format in question which could potentially make studying via ebook more expensive for the student.

From environmentally unfriendly to unfriendly to the environment

Logically, an ebook should be better for the environment that a textbook as there is no paper involved, however “the environmental issue was an area where respondents held divergent views, as about one third felt that they would use ebooks because they would be better for the environment, while others were either unsure or unconvinced” (Gibson & Gibb, 2011), illustrating that the ongoing energy consumption of the device on which the ebooks are installed may in fact be worse for the environment than a managed plan of tree replantation.

From inconvenient to on-demand

The simple act of browsing an ebook on any device implies that a number of technical and personal challenges have been overcome:

  • The device being used is free from any hardware or software fault.
  • The device is compatible with the connectivity required to use the ebook. The publisher may require an online license verification check on each use.
  • The device has software installed that is compatible with the format of the ebook. Some publisher’s require a specific application to use an ebook.
  • The publisher of the ebook has allowed you to unlock the ebook’s content. The publisher may employ Documents Rights Management (DRM) software to control their copyright of the material within the ebook.
  • The user knows how to use the ebook software.
  • The user can access the content of ebook in their preferred way (e.g. reading or listening).
  • The user enjoys reading on a screen.
  • The user is able to annotate the ebook effectively.

Final Thoughts

There is clearly some work to be done regarding the pitfalls of ebooks as identified above, some of which is due to the nature of electronic devices, rather than the ebooks themselves.  By common standardization of ebook formats, device software for reading ebooks and the electricity supplying the ebook power being a better environmental alternative, the majority of these pitfalls would be negated.  The personal preference for paper books over ebooks will always remain, however having witnessed primary school children learning using tablets rather than textbooks in 2015, I am positive that ebooks, or interactive ibooks, are the future and that the textbook will not last much longer into the future.

You can read more about ebook issues and discussions at http://www.ecolibris.net/ebooks.asp


Brown, G. (2012). Replacing Paper Textbooks with eBooks and Digital Devices. Berglund Center for Internet Studies, 12(2012), 15–18. Retrieved from http://bcis.pacificu.edu/interface/?p=1048

Gibson, C., & Gibb, F. (2011). An evaluation of second-generation ebook readers. The Electronic Library, 29(3), 303–319. http://doi.org/10.1108/02640471111141061

Robb, A. (2015). 92 Percent of College Students Prefer Reading Print Books to E-Readers. Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120765/naomi-barons-words-onscreen-fate-reading-digital-world

Tucker, J. (2009). Free digital book plan costly, educators say. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Free-digital-book-plan-costly-educators-say-3296265.php