The Direct Network

Print vs Digital vs Print vs Digital: Which End Is Up?

Posted by Jason Smallheer on Nov 15, 2016 5:20:00 AM
Topics: digital content, Higher Ed, print, options

Surveys don’t lie. They give you information and you take action based on the results. But what if different surveys give you conflicting information? What if one survey said higher education students prefer digital textbooks and another said the same students prefer print books? The quandary.

Print vs Digital vs Print vs Digital- Which end is up?.jpg

A recent survey by American University Professor Naomi S. Baron stated 92% of college students prefer a print textbook. The main reasons given were eyestrain from staring at a digital monitor, fewer distractions in a print book and even the smell a printed book adds to the reading experience.

A similar survey conducted by the Book Industry Study Group found 44% of the students they surveyed prefer digital learning materials. The primary reasons shared were wanting their materials to help master difficult concepts through interaction, test preparation and improving grades.

The common theme that did not arise is the issue of cost., in a survey of their own, stated cost is the determining factor students use when considering what course materials to buy. The survey acknowledged print textbooks will cost about 60% less, but the cost of the digital device is often not considered.

Based on the same research, eReaders start at about $70 and the costs increases to $900 for a tablet. Prices can increase to more than $2,000 when laptops are considered as the primary reading tool. While the cost of the course materials are often considered by the student, the overall cost of ownership for digital materials is often missed.

According to, other factors to consider are weight, the ability to take notes and extra features. A student with multiple classes with several large books being carried across campus can put a strain on their back, shifting the pendulum in the direction of digital materials. However, the ability to sit in a lecture and take quick notes in the book margin, and reference them quickly while studying is a benefit of the printed book. The extra features students used for preparation in the BISG survey is the area the printed textbook cannot compete. While these extras can be accessed online, it often involves a one-time access code, often not available in a used book and must be purchased separately.

The decision for the student often comes down to making a pro and con list. For the administration and faculty, the benefits are course material options in the marketplace. The printed textbook is not going away. Working with a provider with a large quantity of used books and access to the same digital content as new books keeps costs down. For the students and faculty that prefer to move into a digital space with more interactive content, the options are many. A short course on the direction of the digital market and its benefits, like this short video from MBS Direct, will further arm your team to make the decision best fitting your institution.

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About Jason Smallheer

Jason Smallheer worked for MBS from 2016 to 2017. His diverse career includes freelance work, broadcast radio and ski resort marketing. He has a passion for sharing ideas, helping businesses grow and professional development. When not expressing himself through writing, he enjoys time with his family and being outside doing anything that can result in scuffed knees and dirty clothes.

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