Today’s college students are no stranger to technology; most have had a laptop, iPhone, or iPad in their hands since before they could walk. But interestingly, rather than choosing the more modern (and often cheaper) digital textbook option, students are leaning toward purchasing the hard copy version. While this may be on-brand with the hipster chic style of many college attendees — think large glasses, retro cardigans, and scrunchies — what other explanations exist? Digital copies take up less space, are easier to update, and dramatically save paper. But college students continue to choose the hefty, hard-backed tome. Why are print textbooks better?

Fewer Distractions

The internet offers users an infinite pool of distractions: social media, movies and television shows, online shopping, and targeted advertising. College students using a digital textbook are only one click away from a rabbit hole of Facebook comments and photos. A five-minute study break becomes an hour of scrolling and direct messaging. Students will be less tempted to check their Instagram account when turning pages outside of the familiar digital medium.

Used and Resale Options

Thrifty students will appreciate the ability to buy hard copy textbooks secondhand, perusing the different used book options in their campus bookstores and online. More importantly, students can sell back paper textbooks at the end of each semester, scoring some extra cash. Physical books can be saved forever if desired; printing is an ancient technology over 5000 years old. and Digital versions don’t offer the same options and flexibility.

Better comprehension

Whether dog-earring important pages, scribbling notes in the margins, or highlighting key passages, paper textbooks offer students a more hands-on learning experience. These reading strategies can improve comprehension of the material. A 2013 USA Today study demonstrated students retain less when reading on a screen. Moreover, some students may appreciate the aesthetic value of textbooks on their bookshelves, especially for those pursuing careers in academia.


Computers need to be charged and can become damaged. Campus libraries may not always have available computers. In busy college towns, finding an available outlet in a café is less likely than winning the lottery. Hard copy books, however, are always available, and can withstand spilled coffee and power outages.

Overall Learning Experience

Research shows that students learn better from print than from digital copies of textbooks. In general, reading a large amount of material from a screen lends to lower learning comprehension — not to mention the potential eye strain and consequences on sleep from too much screen time. Certain studies suggest that scrolling has a disruptive effect on comprehension. And while reading digitally may increase speed, student performance tends to suffer when reading from a digital textbook. Overall, while some digital learning tools may be effective, in general old fashioned print textbooks will always retain a place in the college students’ learning toolbox.