My e-textbook and note-taking setup
My e-textbook and note-taking setup

 When it comes to textbooks, law students are in a big disadvantage. Law textbooks are expensive. In one semester, a law student can easily spend well over a thousand Dollars in required textbooks alone. The frustration is even worst, when a book is rarely if ever used in class.

Some students opt to rent a textbook which is cheaper than buying new or even a used copy. This is a wise choice knowing that after the exam, most textbooks (especially casebooks) are pretty useless. However, for classes that spread over two semesters, renting a book will cost the same as buying a new copy.

Some books can be purchased used if you are lucky enough to be able to use an older edition for your class. However, it's hard to get a used book without any marking or highlighting.

Finally, some student organizations also collect donated books and make them available to students for free or at a very low price.

However, another option that few students are aware of is to buy e-textbooks. A Civil Procedure book, for example, from West Academic Publishing (west) costs $261 and comes with the print book, a lifetime digital access to a downloadable eBook, a 12-month online access to self-assessment quizzes, study aids, Gilbert® Law Dictionary, audio lectures, and an outline starter. For $195.75, you can get the whole package minus the print book. Same book new on Amazon costs $236.99 but it doesn't come with any of the other resources provided by the publisher.

So, having the eBook format not only will save you money, it also comes with additional resources to supplement the lecture.

I have been using the e-textbooks from West exclusively for my classes and so far, I like it.

In general, I prefer to read eBooks rather than paper-based books. It's more efficient. I can take notes, highlight, search, and I can print if I have to. My current setup is to have Microsoft OneNote and my e-textbook side-by-side. I can read and follow the discussion during the class, while reviewing and taking notes. Switching between books is easy as switching between tabs. And my footprint is limited to my computer.

However, West eBook viewer is based on an outdated open source Flash library from the year 2007 called Yahoo! Astra. It looks and feels like a 2007 website. It's slow, non-responsive, won't load on modern mobile devices, and is missing many of the features you would expect in any modern eBook viewer.

But this lack of features and flexibility is not limited to West Academic Publishing. Many vendors are developing their own digital rights management (DRM) methods to control access to their resources. This is perhaps the biggest concerns for the eBook industry and the main reason while we still don't have an eBook standard that allows for the interoperability of eBooks independently of software and hardware.

So sticking to a paper-based textbook is not a bad idea after all. If you can swallow the cost and support the heavy weight of the books, you won't have to deal with DRM and the non-standardization of eBooks.

Final note: the issue with eBooks is not limited to academic resources. If you are engaged in leisure-reading, you will face the same limitation. If you buy an eBook from Amazon, you are stuck with a MOBI file that only works on an Amazon Kindle device. Same if you buy from other providers. However, the cost for academic books is outrageously expensive. Perhaps it is time to seriously push for Open Educational Resources.