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Which Is Better for Law Students: E-Textbooks or Paper Textbooks?

The new semester has just started, and if you haven't bought or rented your casebooks by now ... well, what's wrong with you? (Except 3Ls: Everyone knows that you've totally checked out at this point.)

In the year 2015, we have plenty of e-books (some available even from our sister company, West Publishing!), but are e-textbooks really the way to go? Sure, they save precious space in your backpack, meaning you won't look like Richard III by the end of law school, but is the trade-off really worth it?

Here are a few factors to consider:

Price

We all know that there's no good reason why textbooks cost over $100. Really, the answer is "because companies can charge it, and students will pay for it." Because it doesn't actually cost anywhere close to $100 to print a book, e-books can be just as expensive as paper books -- and they are.

Advantage: Neither e-books nor paper books. As always, only the textbook companies win.

Convenience

1Ls with set schedules suffer the most. Not only do they have to take the doctrinal courses all at the same time, but those doctrinal courses all have fairly thick casebooks. When you've got Torts, Contracts, and Property on the same day -- oh, and don't forget the paperback UCC supplement! -- it's almost worth it to turn the nerd dial up to "11" and get one of those rolling luggage things.

Advantage: E-textbooks. It's a wash when you consider that a tablet costs about the same as a visit to the chiropractor.

Concentration and Retention

Could it be that, for all their convenience, tablets prevent us from concentrating? Naomi Baron, author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, observed that 92 percent of students given a choice of various media on which to read said they concentrated best when reading on paper. Some of it amounted to distraction, she told The New Republic, but some students also reported headaches and eye strain.

Advantage: Paper textbooks. Just don't read in dim light or your eyesight will go bad, just like your mother always said it would.

Finding Stuff

Wait a minute. This one has got to go to e-books, right? You can literally search for any text string and click "find" to find anything. Not so fast, rhetorical person who's complaining a lot: It's more complicated than that.

"[S]eemingly irrelevant factors like remembering whether you read something at the top or the bottom of page -- or whether it was on the right or left hand side of a two-page spread or near a graphic -- can help cement material in mind," writes Maia Szalavitz in Time. Because e-books are just continuous text with no pages, there are no landmarks.

Advantage: Paper textbooks.

The Verdict

So, at the end of the day, which is better: e-books or paper books? We're thinking paper casebooks, in spite of their girth, still take the cake. They're just easier to read, you retain more information, and you can write in the margins! As long as e-books and print books are the same price, law students may just want to stick with the paper version.

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