A person reading an e-book on an e-reader (Image credit: goXunuReviews)

Since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, students enrolled in all levels of education around the world have used printed materials and textbooks in their classes to enhance the learning process. Books on math, science, literature, and history have been produced for generations. But there is now an increasing trend in textbooks that is shifting away from the traditional hardback book to the digital form of an electronic textbook, more commonly known as an “e-textbook.”

Although lots of textbooks are available in multiple formats, many textbook publishers are releasing electronic-only versions of certain textbooks these days. Principles of Biology, which was published in 2011 by Nature Publishing, is an example of a digital textbook that is only available electronically and is not sold in print form. Students are constantly glued to their phones, iPads, and laptops, which translates well for publishers who know that many students don’t mind looking at a screen to read their books.

Because digital textbooks do not have to be produced in a hardback or paperback form and are accessible on a computer or other web-enabled device, they are generally less expensive than traditional print textbooks. In fact, students can save up to 60% off the actual retail price of a new textbook by purchasing a digital version of it on a CD, in PDF form, or on a website. However, as noted by The Students PIRGS website, there is virtually no way (no pun intended) for students to resell these e-books to recoup the money spent on them. But since many e-books are lower in price, there may not be the need to resell them in the first place.

A good number of digital textbooks are now available in Apple’s online iBooks store, which also sells thousands of novels and general books in digital form. There are also textbook stores that sell e-books on their websites and offer many for free. There is a bit of a move for “open textbooks” as well, which are free to the public. Students can use devices such as the Kindle or Nook to read digital textbooks, which makes it very convenient, especially for students who are always on the go and desire the ability to read their books wherever they are – in their dorm room, in the library, at the local Starbucks, or in class. Of course, students can also read these books on their computers and tablets.

As the market for digital textbooks increases, more students will likely begin to adopt them. There could come a time when all textbooks are strictly available electronically.