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Textbooks: paper or e-books September 21, 2012

Posted by etschneider in Uncategorized.

A long time ago, I wrote about habits of some publishing companies. From what I read on OWNI.fr website, it seems that one of these companies continues to innovate: buy the (expensive) paper textbook and you do not have the complete book. If you want to have the full book, you will need to buy the e-book version, which is “augmented” with (exclusive) content, like the final seven chapters in the example they referenced!

I here quote Owni quoting Pearson representative:

Il existe en effet une version numérique en ligne d’Introduction à la microbiologie de Tortora. C’est un format e-text qui regroupe tous les chapitres de l’ouvrage, et pas seulement les sept derniers. Vous pouvez y prendre des notes, les partager, consulter le glossaire…

Nous fournissons des codes d’accès démo d’1 mois aux enseignants ; nous pouvons également vous en fournir si vous souhaitez le tester. L’e-text est disponible à la vente aux institutions, sous la forme d’un code d’accès par individu. Plusieurs individus ne peuvent se connecter au même e-text avec le même code d’accès. C’est pourquoi ce format n’est pas spécialement développé pour les bibliothèques.

So, in the big lines, the representative said that the e-book (by the way which format?) version has ALL the chapters of the book included, i.e. the paper version is not complete. Moreover, for a stone-and-mortar library, each reader could buy his/her personal access and a library access is not possible, i.e. an institution cannot “give around” its access code. Sad smile. Lecturers could have (free?) access for one month only to the [example] e-book.

Yes I do agree that, depending on the book, some chapters are just “extras” but, I think, that the author wrote them as a full set, not as something like: ok that will be for the paper version, that for the e-book. I do not dare to imagine how an author should think: usually, especially for textbooks, one can have reading order advice, like: first read the first five chapters, than depending one what you want, then read chapters 6, 8 and 10 if you want X. Or if you want Y, read 7, 9 and then 6 and 8… That kind of things! Smile

As much as I like e-books, I am not sure there is a best solution:

  • it is still very difficult to annotate, comment, highlight and so on, an e-book,
  • you have tons of formats for e-books, and not all devices/software are able to open them (while you have the e-pub standard),
  • you have the *****ing Digital Right Management locks on most of the e-books you can purchase, i.e. one need to “crack” them to be able to read them wherever you want, or even to be able to annotate/highlight them,
  • the textbooks are made out of papers, and can be pretty heavy, moreover, the bigger the book is, the less easy it is to annotate/comment/highlight them.

It is theoretically possible to annotate/highlight/comment/etc. e-books but the hardware is not really here and neither the software is: to comment/highlight/etc. directly an e-book, you need a stylus and certainly a tablet(PC), most of the hardware one can see is the iPad from Apple, yes, one can use the finger(s) to comment, etc. but it is still lacking the stylus and its ease of use, and moreover the total freedom that one can have with a paper book.

In fact, the more you think about, and if you read the article from Owni, the more you can think that with the e-books, we have less freedom and possibilities to do “what we want” with the content of the book. On platforms like Amazon and Apple Bookstore, depending on DRMs, one may not be able to comment, or even highlight part of the book! Yes, they will argue that it is depending on the book publisher decisions. As an academic, I do not encourage one to use textbooks on these two platforms. Moreover, from one day or the other, they can, remotely, remove the book from your electronic library!

I might refine/update this post later on. I was mainly motivated by the fact that, depending on the publishers, books are not complete if you buy either the electronic version or the paper version. Fortunately, publishers like O’Reilly seem to understand the concept of e-books, no usage of DRMs, durability over time (and platforms).


Some references:



1. Ian Sommerville - September 21, 2012

The problem is not having some chapters on paper and some electronic – I do this . It makes sense both to reduce production costs and to make material available that would otherwise not be included. The problem is requiring codes to access the electronic material – this is simply stupid behaviour on the publisher’s part. If the electronic chapters are freely available, then I don’t think it is an issue.


etschneider - September 21, 2012

Yes, exactly. When I published the post, I found something was missing from it, and you said it the best way: if the extra chapters (can we say the extra content?) are freely available online, then there is no problem as anyone can get them. Thank you.

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