Save Your Money, Share Your eTextbooks

By Kelly Haugh

Every college student in America loathes getting fleeced by textbook companies each semester, but it doesn’t seem like they can do much to avoid it. The cost of textbooks can be astronomical for a few hundred pages.  If that weren’t bad enough, the evil textbook empire churns out new editions every year or two that change just enough to make the last edition obsolete. They even buy back used copies of the previous edition so professors and students have no choice but to switch to the latest version.

It’s a diabolical and highly profitable business model that has been allowed to drain the bank accounts of students for far too long. But what can students do? Sure, more textbook options have been added recently that are supposedly for the students’ convenience, but all that really does is let you choose the lesser of a few evils.  Is it better to rent a textbook at a fraction of the cost but get no cash from re-selling it, or should you go the eTextbook way?

Before you fork over your hard earned cash on another over-priced paperweight, make sure you know all the tricks of the trade and the best way to get the most for your money.  You may just save yourself a few hundred dollars in the process.

In this technological world, eTextbooks are quickly becoming the best way to learn, especially for the current iPad generation. They provide better resources at the click of a button, interactive content, searchable text and in-book note-taking, plus they’re lighter and easier to carry around than a bulky textbook. You can take an eTextbook with you anywhere…or can you?

There are two major drawbacks to eTextbooks that can rip you off even worse than regular textbooks.  Some eTextbooks are missing entire chunks of content because of copyright and licensing restrictions that may keep some images, graphs, examples and text from being digitized.  Not that they tell you that in the description or knock anything off the price. You won’t realize it until the professor assigns something that – surprise! – doesn’t exist in your copy.

Selling such eTextbooks without being upfront about the omissions is one more in a long line of textbook companies’ unethical transgressions, along with their outrageously inflated prices, even for eTextbooks, and their plethora of meaningless editions. Students shouldn’t have to take such treatment, but they didn’t really have a choice…until now.

With more textbooks being converted into digital form, students have a chance to stand up to textbook companies by choosing to share their knowledge with other poor, ramen noodle-eating students. When you buy a physical textbook, you’re free to do whatever you want with it, including sharing it with a friend. Why should anything be different with eTextbooks?

Publishers and retailers don’t agree. They go so far as to punish legitimate purchasers by strangling their eTextbooks with DRM, which is the second major drawback to buying them. DRM dictates what you can and can’t do with the book you paid good money for.  You’re only allowed to have your eTextbook on a certain number of licensed devices and can’t convert it to a different format if one of your devices requires it, and you certainly can’t share it with a friend.

So why spend your money on it at all?  Sure, you need the book for class, but we’ve all been screwed by the textbook companies enough.  Why not engage in a little civil disobedience to show them we aren’t going to take it anymore?  Use that college brain to come up with a better solution.  Or, you can just keep reading.

If you and five friends all need the same $50 eTextbook, don’t give the textbook company $250 for limited access for what may be an inferior product. Instead, split the cost for a single eTextbook and do a little googling. All it takes is the free ebook management software Calibre and a simple plugin to remove the DRM and all its limitations with two simple clicks.  Now you can each have a copy to “share” for a mere $10.

If every student showed their frustration with overpriced and overregulated textbooks this way, and passed those eTextbooks on to their “friends” around the world, they just might break the textbook monopoly.

Sites attempting to do just that have sprung up and grown over the past few years, created by students for students.  The creator of one such site, LibraryPirate.me, recently added a new service to help the less technically advanced students take back their eTextbooks and contribute to the movement.

This new service allows students to join with their friends to buy an Amazon gift card worth the same amount as the eTextbook they need.  They send the gift card code and a link to the eTextbook to the LibraryPirate staff, who will purchase it, strip the DRM and email the clean copy back to the students.  That eTextbook will also be added to LibraryPirate’s ever-expanding library so other fed up, penny-pinching students won’t be forced to give the greedy textbook companies any more money just because they don’t have a choice.  America is all about the freedom to choose, so isn’t it past time for students to take that freedom back?

Make the smart choice: save your money, share your eTextbooks.

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One response to “Save Your Money, Share Your eTextbooks

  1. Doesn’t work anymore – see CourseSmart eTextbook – saves to encrypted little json files in browser’s cache. No “book” to convert with calibre. Now just “print to PDF” 10 pages a day, then stip off watermark to cover your ass (threshold for background image), then share. Or screenshot, OCR, PDF, and share.

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