Opinion Features

Paper Versus PDF: Which is the Better Textbook?

By Trina Stroedecke
Opinion Writer

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many learning institutions have embraced the virtual learning format, which has created a plethora of learning optionality. Specifically, a major change for students has been searching for cheaper textbooks, which has led to many individuals accessing textbooks digitally. In the last few years, eBooks have increased in popularity given the expansive collection of online materials and the convenience of quickly downloading them and reading them anywhere they travel. Not only do people utilize online textbooks for school learning, but they also read books for pleasure on their mobile devices, such as an iPad or Kindle. With their rising popularity, eBooks have become a real competitor to printed textbooks.

With the rise of a paperless textbook industry, a heated debate has arisen regarding the differences between paper and virtual reading materials. (Photo Courtesy of Google Play)

While online books emulate physical publications in many ways, such as providing akin content and practice problems, they are structurally different than the traditional reading material. Specifically, eBooks are thin, light, and can be accessed in large quantities simultaneously. For active readers, eBook Readers are small enough to carry around daily without taking up much space. Meanwhile, printed books can be bulky and heavy, making it harder for individuals to reference multiple textbooks at the same time without having to bear the pain of carrying around multiple large textbooks. Even further, downloading a copy of a PDF textbook is usually much cheaper than purchasing a printed textbook, with some websites even offering free PDFs, hyperbolizing the perks of paperless reading materials. Finally, many online textbook publishers also have access code packages including a PDF copy of a textbook, illustrating publishers’ adaptation to consumers’ shifting preferences for a completely paperless book industry.

However, not all individuals have embraced the shift towards a paperless book sector. Interestingly, many people claim to absorb material more effectively via studying a physical copy of a book. These individuals claim that eBooks or PDFs may be easily accessible on a mobile device, however, traditional books allow users to highlight a page to reference later while paperless materials do not possess the same optionality, which mitigates their effectiveness as a studying material. Likewise, another bonus of purchasing a used textbook is the notes that a prior owner may have left in it, which cannot be replicated in a virtual textbook.

Overall, while eBooks and printed textbooks may vary significantly, they both offer the user different benefits. For eBooks, the upside lies in the ease of accessibility while textbooks provide users the optionality to flag pages to review later in a more effective manner. Thus, both forms of books are effective studying materials, and students should not feel that they are disadvantaged by preferring one type of reading material!


Contact Trina at stroedka@shu.edu

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