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E-books, the expensive option?

September 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
College students returning to campus at the University of Southern California are finding that digital textbooks are not a bargain as promised. In fact, online books can be more expensive for several reasons. So students are dealing with an expensive reality."I spent maybe about $400 on text books," said Brandon Reinus, a college student.

"I ended up paying $900 for just half my textbooks. And, I still haven't bought any of the books for my English class yet," said Tim McNally, another student.

"$750 ... Don't tell my parents," said Xan Sakas, yet another student.

Recently publishers started offering online versions of their books to cut down costs. However, they are more expensive than the hard copies. The reason for the high cost is that students can't return them and get a portion of your money back.

"If you buy a text book for $100, you can buy a used copy for $75 and sell if back for $50. And then the net cost of the print book would be $25. The e-text book would still cost $50," said Nelson Chen, California Public Interest Research Group.

A recent study by the California Public Interest Research Group found that, on average, online books are 39 percent more expensive than hard-copy versions.

Digital textbooks are not only more expensive, but students say they are hard to read. In addition, the digital version expires after 180 days.

"Most of them will expire after a certain amount of time. And then if you take any later classes you can't use them as reference you have to buy them all over again," said college student Kyla Fennig.

E-books can only be printed 10 pages at a time. That's the reason CALPIRG members have suggested something called "open textbooks."

"It's something akin open source software, or Wikipedia, where any professor with peer review can write their own content online and students can access it for free," said Chen, CALPRIG.

Supporters say universities like Harvard and NYU are already using open textbooks. They hope USC could be just a few years away from the concept. However, some students are skeptical.

"No, the bookstore has a monopoly," said Reinus.

"Anything with free sounds too good for a college student hopefully that would work out but as I said it seems like everything that sounds too good to be true really is," said Sakas.

 

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