The age-old tradition of hauling heavy textbooks from class to class has long been a characteristic image of the college experience. However, in recent years, students have been reevaluating this practice. With digital technology rapidly advancing and embedding itself into every facet of life, the realm of education is no exception. So, do college students still buy textbooks?

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Do College Students Still Buy Textbooks? The Changing Landscape of Academic Resources

Key takeaways:

  • Students’ preferences for physical or digital textbooks are largely influenced by their individual learning styles and the nature of their courses. While some students appreciate the interactivity and convenience of digital resources, others prefer the tactile experience and the ability to annotate physical textbooks.
  • The cost of textbooks, particularly when additional fees for online homework platforms are factored in, is a significant consideration for many students. Some express frustration with these added costs, suggesting that online resources should be included in the tuition fee, while others see the value in investing in physical copies for certain courses.
  • A number of students are opting for a hybrid approach, utilizing both physical and digital resources. This allows them to enjoy the benefits of both formats – the convenience and searchability of digital copies and the tangibility and note-taking potential of physical books. This approach also enables students to adapt their resources according to their needs at any given time.

The Reasoning behind Studet’s Buying Habits

Samantha, a junior majoring in economics, shares, “The only time I buy a textbook is when it’s like an e-book where it also has the homework questions on the website.” She represents a large demographic of students who prefer digital formats due to the interactive components they offer. Her friend, Justin, agrees, adding, “Unless the reading is imperative or contains questions, we’re not wasting more money.”

However, not all students are sold on the digital revolution. James, a senior studying computer science, has a preference for traditional textbooks when reading. “If I had the choice it would be hardback. I don’t like digital, that way I could study when the computer and or power goes dead.” His sentiment is echoed by the literature student Vanessa, who finds physical textbooks help her process information better. She candidly adds, “Having it on paper in front of me helps me process information better. That, and I’m a big ol’ dork that wants a shelf with all their textbooks when I graduate.”

The economic aspect of textbooks is another significant factor influencing students’ buying habits. Hailey, a sophomore, expresses her frustration with online learning programs that come with an additional cost. “I buy digital unless I absolutely HAVE to have the hard copy,” she explains. “I also have to buy the textbook 9/10 times because of the online HW programs. Online HW should be part of tuition cost, not an additional $100 fee. It’s frustrating.”

On the other hand, students like Max are willing to invest in hard copies for certain classes, especially when they significantly contribute to the coursework. “For classes where I know I’ll actually be using the textbook, I try to find a cheaper paper copy if I can. I do much better with a hard copy in front of me,” Max says.

Notably, some students like to have the best of both worlds. For example, Clara, a sophomore studying chemistry, buys all her textbooks, preferably in hardback. “I find that I cannot learn as well without a physical book,” she admits. “But I also usually have a digital copy for when I don’t want to tote a bunch of books around.”

Many students also appreciate the convenience of e-books. Luke believes that “an e-book is absolutely superior. You can search for specific things in it without taking hours to try and find something again in a physical copy.”

Some learners find value in textbooks beyond their educational use. As an English major, Emily cherishes the physical copies of her books. “I could take notes and write in them and make them my own. Plus I think it’s easier on the eyes reading paper than a digital copy,” she explains.


The landscape of academic resources in higher education is clearly evolving. Whether students prefer digital textbooks for their convenience and interactivity, or physical ones for their tactile experience and note-taking ease, it’s clear that the choice often depends on the individual’s learning style, the nature of the course, and financial considerations. As this debate continues, one thing remains certain: textbooks, in whatever format, will continue to play a crucial role in students’ lives.


Are college students buying physical textbooks or digital textbooks?

It depends on the student and the class. Some students prefer physical textbooks, while others prefer digital textbooks. Some classes require students to purchase online access codes for homework, which often come with a digital version of the textbook.

Why do some college students prefer physical textbooks?

Many students find the material, paperback nature of physical textbooks helps with their retention of information. Being able to highlight passages and write notes directly onto the pages of the book is another advantage that appeals to some learners in academia.

Why do some college students prefer digital textbooks?

Digital textbooks, also known as electronic books or e-books, are often less expensive than their hard copy counterparts and offer a level of convenience, especially when being carried around campus. They enable easy searching and highlighting of text, and some students find it easier to read from a computerized screen or e-reader.

Can college students rent textbooks instead of buying them?

Absolutely, many campus bookstores and online retailers offer options to rent textbooks, whether they’re physical copies or downloadable e-books.

How can college students save money on textbooks?

There are numerous ways for learners to mitigate the costs associated with course materials. Renting textbooks, purchasing used copies or opting for digital versions like PDFs can be cost-saving measures. Exploring online marketplaces for cheaper options or checking if the campus libraries have a copy available for borrowing are also smart strategies. Keep in mind, these strategies can apply across the spectrum of higher education, from trade schools and vocational institutes to polytechnics.

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