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Students see advantages in eBook readers

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Nick Occhipenti couldn’t wait any more for his Consumer Orientation textbook to arrive at Mercer’s bookstore.

“Every time I went back, they were out.” So he decided to forgo not only the bookstore, but the print edition altogether. Occhipenti downloaded a digital edition of the text from Amazon.com’s Kindle market, and in doing so, not only saved time, but also about 80 dollars.

According to the College Board’s “Break Down The Bill” webpage, an average student pays 500 dollars each semester for their books, including used sales. A recent VOICE survey found that Mercer students averaged around 270 dollars. The same survey revealed that the majority of students’ textbooks—about 75 percent—are purchased from the Mercer Bookstore, and most of the remaining books are ordered online from services such as Amazon.com, which tends to have cheaper prices and offers free two -day shipping for students.

For those students who own an e-reader, tablet, or laptop computer, there may be another option. In 2011, major textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton-Mifflin began releasing digital editions of many of their textbooks.

“The major ones, they are just beginning to embrace e format,” says Pamela Price, Director of Library Service, “and not all of them across the board are yet doing so.” A digital edition is essentially an ebook, or PDF version of the original text and images that can be viewed on most of today’s portable devices.

Many such devices are not cheap, especially if the user desires greater capability. A new iPad, for instance, starts at 500 dollars, and upgraded models can bring the price to around 800 dollars. For those seeking less computing power, but who would still like the ability to read ebooks, many e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Nobles’ Nook, sell for anywhere from 80 to 120 dollars, depending on features like touchscreen capability, 3G support and advertising.

However, digital editions of textbooks could offer students an enticing way to mitigate the high cost of such devices. Preliminary surveys by the VOICE have found that, on Amazon’s Kindle market, digital editions for textbooks used in many common 101-level courses at Mercer averaged half the cost of their print counterparts sold in the campus bookstore.

The versatility of the more expensive devices, too, could prove useful for students. Nick Occhipenti can bring up many pages of notes on his Asus Transformer Prime, all taken with his onscreen keyboard.

Portability is another major pro for Occhipenti. Also enrolled in Mercer’s aviation program, one of his books last semester was a 2,000 page, 50 pound regulations book.  “I picked it up in the bookstore, and I couldn’t even wrap my hand around it,” Nick said.  “I’m like ‘screw this, I’m getting it onto [my tablet]’.”

Associate Professor of English Diane Rizzo agrees that capacity is one of the strongest selling points for tablets. When she first started using a store of iPads which were made available for Mercer faculty to borrow and test, she was “really underwhelmed,” but after realizing how she could apply their functionality to the unique needs of her own life, decided to purchase a personal iPad and admits, “Now, I really don’t know what I would do without it.”

There are many reasons why most students would choose to purchase their books from the campus bookstore. Some texts such as the IST 101 book, Technology in Action, are created from chapters that are ready-made by the publisher and compiled ad-hoc by instructors or program directors to fulfill specific course requirements.

Additionally, many course books now include CDs or supersite access codes that link students to required course content. These instructional materials can cost 80 dollars or more to purchase independently, and are not necessarily included with digital textbook downloads.

Professor Rizzo admits that despite her excitement, the technology has not yet reached a  stage in its development where students and faculty can expect to see it used as a more standard learning aid, particularly mindful of the economics of the technology, especially in the context of cash-strapped students.

“If there was some way to bundle the publications to the e readers, that would make the cost almost equivalent to what students are spending now,” she says. “These devices could pay for themselves.”

She also warns, however, that technology in the classroom has to be used with care.“If we only think about the technology as a substitute for the antiquated book,” she says, “then we’re not going to get very far, because we will not have tapped out on the potential of it.”

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