Gas station without pumps

2015 August 8

Textbook should be on paper

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:34
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One concern I have with the lean publishing I’m doing with my book is that there is no cheap way for students to get paper copies of the book, and there is some evidence that books on paper are better than e-books:

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally. A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.

In years of surveys, Baron asked students what they liked least about reading in print. Her favorite response: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.”

[Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right. – The Washington Post]

Of course, for books undergoing rapid development, there really isn’t any choice but to use electronic formats. In Spring quarter 2015, I released 10 different PDF drafts of my book (about one draft a week)—that rate of update would be very, very difficult to do on paper, unless I doled out just one chapter at a time, preventing students from reading ahead.

Leanpub does mention the possibility of providing print-on-demand publishing through services like Lulu, but they charge a lot for color printing—my book at its current 265 pages would cost $15.92 to print through Lulu, on cheap paper and with a flimsy “perfect” binding.  To get a bookstore-quality paperback (heavier weight coated paper) would cost $50.67.  If I switched to trade paperback size (6″×9″ instead of 8.5″×11″), I’d probably need about 365 pages, even after trimming the margins down to get a print area of 4.5″×8″ instead of 5.5″×9″, which would cost $47.13 for bookstore quality or $17.68 for uncoated paper.  So the cheapest printing would be about $16, but that would not be eligible for retail sales.  I suspect that there would be some students willing to pay an extra $16 for a paper copy, but not $50, and certainly not $100, which is what I’d have to charge for a Lulu book sold through retail channels like Amazon.

In any case, I expect the book to be undergoing frequent editing at least through the next offering of the course (Spring 2016), so I’ll be sticking with PDF only for the near future, despite the claim that students would benefit from having a paper copy.




  1. There is a fair amount of evidence that people learn better with paper books too. I certainly think so. My son likes to refer to my library as “my homage to archaic technology” but he too agrees that for technical reading, you learn more with print copies. While I’m sure students would prefer to purchase a $16 book instead of a $50 dollar book, many textbooks are way above the $100 mark, especially those in biochemistry or molecular biology. $50 seems pretty reasonable to me…

    Comment by Rich — 2015 August 9 @ 09:19 | Reply

    • According to about 46% of UCSC undergrads are on Pell grants (and that number is dated—I think that the percentage is higher now), so I’d just as soon not stick them with $50 book costs, especially since there is already a lab fee of over $100 for the course to cover parts and tools. I’m going to try to get the lab fee reduced this year—I think that the lab staff have been padding the lab fees to cover things that shouldn’t be coming out of lab fees.

      For this year, I still expect to be making on-the-fly changes, so will not be encouraging paper copies, but maybe next year.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 August 9 @ 12:45 | Reply

  2. […] on paper (maybe never—the cost of printing is high relative to PDF distribution, but see Textbook should be on paper), available in EPUB and MOBI formats (maybe never—those formats are awful for math and for […]

    Pingback by Sabbatical leave application 2016 | Gas station without pumps — 2015 December 14 @ 14:33 | Reply

  3. […] that it would be good to be able to make paper copies of the book available to students (see Textbook should be on paper), but the print-on-demand services seemed too expensive.  I was apparently not looking at […]

    Pingback by Progress on my book | Gas station without pumps — 2017 August 19 @ 16:05 | Reply

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