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Digital Textbooks vs. Traditional Textbooks: Which Is Better?

The cost of college in the US has increased over the years, with learning institutions now charging $35,720 per student per year. That’s three times what students paid 20 years ago. For many students, a significant portion of college fees goes to course materials and textbooks, and it’s easy to see why. 94 percent of college students say they feel that their academic progress is negatively affected if they don’t have the required textbook. Thankfully, college students today have more options regarding the type of learning materials to buy.

You can opt to buy either print or digital textbooks. But while the two are excellent information resources, they’re by no means equal.

So, which between electronic textbooks and print textbooks is better? This post helps shed more light on the matter by looking at nine key factors.

Let’s delve right in.


Generally, online textbooks are priced significantly lower than physical textbooks. That’s because publishing books online eliminated paper, printing, and shipping costs.

But while textbook pricing is friendlier when it comes to electronic books, keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a device to read them. That means you must have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop and install a suitable e-book reader to access the information available on digital textbooks.

Thus, while the cost of print textbooks seems higher, at least you don’t need to worry about having a functioning electronic device to read one. 


When it comes to ease of access, digital textbooks carry the day. You don’t need to worry about searching for a certain copy in multiple bookshops before you can find the book you need like you would when looking for a physical textbook. You only need to go online and search the title of the textbook, then purchase and download it.

Accessing the specific section within the textbook is also much easier with a digital textbook. Most of these books have helpful search functions, highlighting features, and copy and paste features.  These features are lacking in traditional textbooks. 


One of the major benefits of using physical textbooks is that the engagement level is generally higher than when using electronic books. That’s because there are fewer distractions, which means you can focus more.

Digital textbooks reside in electronic devices. That means there’s a vast world of games, social media, and other distractions a click away, which can negatively impact your ability to follow along.

Many students also recall and visualize material better on hard copies than when they read the material physically.


The portability of digital textbooks is undoubtedly one of their strongest selling points. You can literally carry thousands of digital textbooks in your smartphone.

The same cannot be said of physical textbooks. Even carrying a handful of books around in your back can be a tiring affair. 

Because digital textbooks are highly portable, you can always bring all the resources you need everywhere you go. That means you’ll never need to worry about forgetting an important textbook at home or anywhere else.


Because traditional textbooks do not rely on electronic devices, they’re generally more reliable than their electronic counterparts. With a digital textbook, you need to worry about whether your device is working properly and has a battery charge. Often, you’ll need to have an internet connection to access digital content. 

When it comes to print books, all you need is your textbook and note-taking material to study. 


College students generally have many good reasons to buy used textbooks, which means you can always be sure that you’ll find a market for your print textbooks once you’re through using them. There are lots of sites online that’ll offer you a reasonable price for your used textbooks. 

With digital books, the option of reselling or redistributing is either unavailable or incredibly challenging.


One of the drawbacks of print textbooks is that the fonts, sizes, and styles of the letters are fixed. That means, once you’ve bought the book, you’re stuck with the text as it is.

Most digital books give you the option of adjusting the font size and style to enhance readability. This is especially helpful for people with some level of vision impairment. 

Space Requirements

Print textbooks occupy physical space, which means you must find a place to keep them. That means a locker, bookshelf, or even a bag. This may prove inconvenient, especially if you don’t have enough space for these books. 

With digital books, the challenge of finding enough space to store your reading resources isn’t there. Your regular smartphone is more than enough to house all the titles you need for your course. 


Each year, more than 15 billion trees are cut down around the world. A significant percentage of these trees are used to manufacture paper that then goes towards books and textbooks. In the US alone, 626,000 tonnes of paper are used to produce books each year.

From these statistics, it’s clear that the production of print textbooks has a significant impact on the environment. 

With electronic textbooks, no single sheet of paper is necessary as these books require no printing. Thus, digital books are generally eco-friendlier.

The Choice Between Print and Digital Textbooks Depends on You

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing between physical and digital textbooks. Ultimately, it all depends on what suits your budget and personal preferences.

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About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.