eBooks vs Print Books

eBooks Versus Print Books: Pros and Cons

“It’s the most complete book for the Medical Boards. Unfortunately, no one can carry it out of the store.”

In addition to classical print books, there now is the growing option of reading eBooks, whether on reading devices (e.g. Kindle, iPad, Nook, Android), on the Internet (e.g. Google Books), or as downloads from the Internet to your computer.

As I see it, the pros and cons of eBooks versus print books in medical education are:

•  eBooks avoid the space limitations of print books.  In small living quarters, it is space-saving to have books in electronic form.

•  It is easier to carry books in electronic format than heavy print books.

•  eBooks are generally less expensive than print books.

•  Ebooks have the potential for interactivity, including searching and hyperlinking to other sources of information, as well as audio and video enhancements.

•  Ebooks can be updated more frequently than print books.

•  While there are provisions in some eBook reading devices and applications to underline, take notes, bookmark, and jump to different areas of the book, some people may find it less awkward to do this in an actual print book.

•  If books are read via the Internet, the ability to read would depend on whether or not there is an Internet connection at the time.  This problem does not exist in a printed book or when reading eBooks that are already downloaded to a reading device or eReader application on one’s computer.

•  Hand-held pocket sized devices may be convenient to carry around, but their small screens make them impractical for certain kinds of books, particularly those that have many illustrations and charts.

•  Many medical texts are in color.  This would render it impractical to read them on a device that uses electronic ink, such a black and white Kindle.

•  It can be fatiguing reading a screen for extended periods.

•  If the eReader device only allows reading one book at a time, this may be problematical for those who want to study from more than one book simultaneously.

When I was a medical student, the saying was that the highest grade would go to the student who could write the fastest, in view of the need to write down the lecture notes.  Today, students can take classroom notes on a computer.  A standard computer keyboard allows more rapid typing than on other devices, such as an iPad or hand-held device.  While one can purchase a wireless keyboard to type on an iPad, this is an extra device to carry around.

What is your preference – eBook or print book?  Do the needs of medical students differ from those of other readers?  What is your opinion about the future use of eBooks versus print books in medical education?

13 thoughts on “eBooks Versus Print Books: Pros and Cons”

  1. Hi,

    I’m a pneumologist and I think your book are very very useful. I hope for a clinical COMPLETE collection. Your idea of simplificate medicine is very very excellent.
    In my opinion print books and e-books are both useful.
    When possible i prefer to own the print AND the ebook version.
    When I’m not able to use pc Ica read on print ebook, when I’m not able to read print book
    for its dimensions I read on ebook. And for economical reasons the ebook is often more convenient for spend less money.
    Thanks very much for you idea.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Pasquale. Presently, MedMaster is considering publishing eBooks. The field is rapidly changing, with different eBook formats, different eReaders, and changing terms for publishers. Hopefully, the field will settle down some more and we can pursue this area.

  3. Hi Dr. Goldberg,
    I prefer print only for a number of reasons:
    For memory purposes, referring back some time later to a
    visual format that I reviewed multiple times speeds up my
    recall; especially when my notes are written on the pages
    and highlighted.

    I also have a condition called Irlen’s syndrome, so I
    use a colored filter on the page to help me read
    faster. There is considerable glare using a computer and can be
    very limiting for me. While the ability to dim the brightness
    and even enlarge font is an added plus when reading articles online,
    not having the opportunity to kinesthetically interact with
    material (drawing, underlining, etc…) unltimately turns
    me away from using e-books.

    Be well.

  4. Good points, Hope. The iPad does give the option of reading the text with either a white or sepia background. I’m not sure how effective sepia is with Irlen’s syndrome. There is certainly a problem with glare, however, in reading on the iPad when there is an overhead light, especially outdoors in the sun. The glare problem is not present with a Kindle, but being an ink reader, the Kindle does not show color.

  5. Hi,

    As a medical student, I spend less than half my time at my apartment where all my print books are. The ability to carry all those texts around would be extremely helpful. Money is a bigger issue for students as well.

    In addition consider international students, who could run into tremendous trouble acquiring textbooks from the US, and having to deal with shipping costs and the bureaucracy of European custom services.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, Eric. As you point out, the portability of eBooks and decreased expense of eBooks are important. However, do these outweigh the discomfort some readers feel on reading for a long time on a screen, as well some awkwardness in note-taking, page flipping, and reading more than one reference at once?

  7. They most definitely do not. With any pros and cons standoff it’s the individual factor that turns the scale.

    Elsevier offers free electronic versions with some of their print books, these are web based and not 3rd party formatted for kindle or ipad, but my point is it attempts to cover the needs of all costumers while those looking to save money or use the text as a pocket guide etc can still do with a standalone ebook.

  8. I love using eBooks of any kind. I have three textbooks on my iPad right now, two through Coursesmart and one through Kindle. All three are in full color, I can highlight and/or write notes and I can use them offline. I can also print the pages so it’s just like having the printed version. I print just the chapters I need for each unit, punch holes in them and stick them in a binder. I don’t want to carry three heavy textbooks around on a daily basis so I love the eBook option.

  9. Hi….
    I first discovered the MedMaster series i the late 90s while at Stanford. They are GREAT at eliminating the “fluff” for a “just the facts”sort of understanding.

    I own ALL the print books in the series and check back about once a year to see if there have been any additions.

    What I like most about the series is the way they distill the often complex info into a form easy to understand. This definately strikes a chord with me because I regularly admonish my med students for rote regurgitation of medical jargon during patient teaching and actually force them to explain A&P and patho to me as if I was a precocious 10 yr old.

    The students here at UW that leave my clerkship, with the phrases; “From rote to reason” and “If you can’t explain it to a 10 yr old or an 80yr old, with everyday analogies, without using fancy polysyllabic, $10 words… then YOU really don’t know it”….!!!!

    I always suggest MedMaster as a way to get them there…

    Now I’m impatiently waiting for the series to go digital, so I can have it in my pocket, in my Xoom and Nook at all times. If “platform” selection is a issue… you could simply make them ALL available in a locked (non-printable, non-editable, non-copy & pasteable) PDF format since ALL devices regardless of platform will read/display pdfs.


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