How To Buy Digital Textbooks

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today, let’s talk about textbooks.

Once upon a time, I received digital textbooks in high school that didn’t have pictures, charts, or graphs. This was particularly stressful, especially in my chemistry class where those are a pretty big deal. Because the textbook was out of date, my mom was able to purchase a cheap used copy, rip the book apart, and scan it in, page by page, into the computer so that I would be able to access it digitally (note- this is legal), a process that was very time consuming. Now, there are many options for digital textbooks that not only contain all of the same things the print copies do, but also can be enlarged clearly, highlighted, annotated, and more. I’m lucky to go to a college that embraces digital textbooks and technology in the classroom for everyone, regardless of their level of sight, as digital textbooks become the wave of the future. Just make sure you will get the same access codes and other material as the people who buy print textbooks do. Here are the digital textbook services I have used in college so far.  

1. Amazon Kindle– This app is at the top because it is my most used app. It’s easy to find digital textbooks at reasonable prices here, and even large textbooks can be downloaded in under a minute. The images are clear and the book itself can be navigated quickly. Annotations are also easy to search, and the user can create flash cards to help study the material. It also responds flawlessly to display accommodations and zoom on the iPad, and integrates well with VoiceOver.

2. Barnes and Noble Nook– I have purchased digital textbooks from here and order books from the Nook store when they aren’t available elsewhere. The fonts can be customized, as well as their size. In addition, line spacing, background color, margins, and brightness can be adjusted. However, pictures tend to look a little funny if they are small, and the pages take longer to load compared to the Amazon app. It’s easier to read on this app for prolonged periods of time because the user can increase font size and contrast higher, so eye strain is reduced.

3. Chegg– Chegg is a textbook service that allows users to rent or buy textbooks and eTextbooks. The built in dictionary and Wikipedia features are great, but the spacing of the display seems awkward as it only displays a quarter of the page at the most. For pages with more than three pictures or graphs, VoiceOver seemed to get a bit confused and skip around. However, the images were high resolution and adapted well to my display accommodations.

4. Apple iBooks- While I haven’t personally used them in college, a lot of my friends swear by iBooks. With videos, animations, and easily enlarged pictures and graphs, it’s very easy to read. Text is clear to read, and it is flawless with VoiceOver. I don’t use it because I am sensitive to flashing lights and flickering effects, and was worried the videos and animations might use those.

5. VitalSource Bookshelf– Two of my professors publish their textbooks on this platform. It was hard to read text on this app because it was scanned in from a print copy so it was lower resolution than an ePub file. It’s easy to pages or take a screenshot to import into Notability, but the images were lower resolution than screenshots from any other app. VoiceOver was impossible to use.

6. Pearson- I have used digital textbooks from Pearson for classes where the teacher had their own website on the Pearson SuccessNet platform. There was no application to view the textbooks on my iPad, as it was Adobe Flash based, so I had to use the computer. However, it is easy to read for long periods on the computer, and there is a large amount of study materials available.

And to answer the debate over whether to rent or buy the textbooks, I choose to buy books that I might use in another class and rent the ones I won’t. Usually, there isn’t a huge price difference when it comes to renting or buying digital textbooks, though digital textbooks are much cheaper than physical books- my sighted friend took my advice last year, and found it was cheaper to buy an iPad and all their textbooks digitally than it was to buy all of the books as physical copies. If a textbook is only available in print, I will use a CCTV to access it or utilize my school assistive technology services to convert the book to a digital format- my school requires a receipt for book purchase and my Office of Disability file in order to convert the book.

Another good thing to remember is to check with the professor about whether it’s okay to buy a newer edition if that’s all that is available digitally. My professors have never seen a problem with it, but it never hurts to check. After all, a textbook with relevant information is almost as important as having a professor that will follow your accommodations. Check back tomorrow for my next post on tips on educating professors on your accommodations! 

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