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View Poll Results: A free online version of my textbook is available. Do I ditch buying the text?
No, buy the book 12 21.43%
Obv download the free text 40 71.43%
wat 4 7.14%
Voters: 56. You may not vote on this poll

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Poll: Save textbook money with online PDFs?

Old 01-11-2010 at 10:03 PM   #1
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Poll: Save textbook money with online PDFs?
Simply put, my question is whether or not it will be profitable (as a student) to NOT BUY textbooks when you have access to a free online version of the text. I won't post how to find such files since that would be crossing the line, but it's generally pretty simple. Online databases for textbooks are growing quite fast and this seems to be a decision I face each term.

General Arguments for Buying the Text

1) There's no way I can study properly having to stare at a glowing screen for 3 hours straight. I am a concrete learner and need to have a book in front of me.

2) Used books sell, so you are only losing a fraction of the initial price you bought it for. Make the easy investment!

3) There would be way too many distractions if I had to read the text on my laptop. I would be constantly pulled away from my work due to FB, MSN, hardcore por... etc etc

4) Being able to study efficiently comes as a first priority to me. I don't care about saving money.

General Arguments for Downloading the E-book

1) I have barely enough money to buy this text, I'll just download the online version because it's better than being broke for a semester.

2) Textbook value decreases sporadically, if I buy this textbook now, how do I know they won't change the required text next year? If the version changes, will I have to sell it for 70% off?

3) I don't have any problem reading through a textbook on my laptop. I find it to be the same thing as studying straight from a book anyway.

4) When I'm headed to the library, I won't have to lug around a 1000 page textbook in order to study. I'll just have to bring my laptop which I do most of the time anyway.

So there are some pros and cons on the subject. Remember, this only applies to those courses where there is an online textbook available. Feel free to comment on which option you think is better. Is it a snap decision to download the textbook every time? Would you never consider downloading the textbook under any circumstance? Lastly, does the liquidity (easiness to sell) of the textbook effect the situation a lot more? Thanks for all input
Old 01-11-2010 at 10:15 PM   #2
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I'm using a PDF in three of my five classes, and I gotta say there are a lot of advantages to PDFs. I bought the books too, but I havent touched them.

here are my reasons:

1) ligthweight...all u have to do is carry your laptop instead of heavy textbooks
2)easier to find stuff...the search option in PDFs is awesome for some classes
3) if u know where to find them, they are FREE

the main reason is really number 1. I like to study between classes, and that would be next to impossible to do without PDFs
Former McMaster Student
Would be Electrical Engineering II
Old 01-11-2010
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Old 01-11-2010 at 10:18 PM   #3
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I've never had a textbook in which a PDF online version was available...readily.
Carl Karichian
Hons Life Science Level IV
Old 01-11-2010 at 11:02 PM   #4
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I've actually been finding that the texts aren't useful for most of my classes anyway. I've bought 2 textbooks so far this year, and made do without the others. (And one was an optional text that I only bought because it was $30).

If you absolutely require a book, the PDF is definitely a better option.
Old 01-11-2010 at 11:29 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by A.Marlowe View Post
If you absolutely require a book, the PDF is definitely a better option.
I have to disagree. Sometimes the actual textbook is better than a PDF. I know that I would much rather have a hardcopy of the textbook than an online copy of the textbook if I was going to be studying and reading the book daily. Reading online for 4-5 hours can really damage your eyes, and personally, staring at a computer screen for too long gives me a headache. If I was told that my exams were totally based on my textbooks, I would definitely buy the textbooks (even if there were free, online versions available).

That said, at the moment, none of my courses rely heavily on the textbooks, so I would probably download the PDFs if I knew how: p
Old 01-12-2010 at 12:20 AM   #6
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Maybe for a very textbook intensive course, but in general most courses won't require 4-5 hours a day. And if you have a Kindle, you can put the PDFs on that :p

I actually download most of my novels too, its just more convenient. And I don't mind the screen thing.
Old 01-12-2010 at 03:38 AM   #7
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I don't know if I can answer the poll based on the fact that I don't think there's a black-or-white answer to this. Factors like:

- price (like Marlowe said, some if a book is cheap, then you might as well buy it)
- usefulness (ask friends or upper years if the book is useful)
- size (I don't like lugging around big books)
- duration of use (Stewart's Calculus will always come in handy)

all affect the decision to opt for a pdf as opposed to a book.

With that in mind, I've never actually replaced a textbook with a pdf. I'll either have both, or just the textbook, or I might just skip buying the textbook altogether.

This is coming from the mindset of someone with a 35-45 minute trip to Mac, one way. It's probably different for students in res, but I'll usually keep the text at home and use the pdfs on school computer if I must.
Old 01-12-2010 at 06:36 AM   #8
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if you just have to read...then pdf is fine but if you wanna practice like in physics and math...pdf will be a pain
Afzal Najam - Honours Computer Science grad
Old 01-12-2010 at 08:09 AM   #9
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Ordering the books online, or ordering used copies, or international editions, can be so cheap I don't see why the hassle of finding and using a pdf version is necessary. You don't always have a computer available either, so it's much less portable, not to mention it will likely get washed away at the next reformatting or new memory stick purchase. Anyway I have gotten textbooks as cheap as $7 versus over $150 before using services like and Just an option to consider. However I must say I wouldn't be caught dead paying mac bookstore prices.
Old 01-12-2010 at 08:13 AM   #10
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I don't think either option is necessarily better. To be honest, I'm sure both of them work equally well as substitutes for Ambien. That's what I use textbooks for.

danallan, lmasud, minz like this.
Old 01-12-2010 at 08:18 AM   #11
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Also, because my focus is Accounting, it's difficult to find the textbooks online, because all of the books are Canada specific. It's much easier to find a textbook like chemistry which can be used all over the world.
Old 01-12-2010 at 10:41 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by rrtt View Post
Reading online for 4-5 hours can really damage your eyes
No it can't.... this is another myth. There is no evidence that reading from a computer screen can cause damage to the eye, and in fact current research has shown the opposite - that there is no effect on the eye at all.

Complaints of discomfort are usually caused by eye dryness, as it has been shown that people tend to blink less often when concentrating. This however, is also commonplace among people who read a lot in general, and not just from computer screens.
Ben Taunton
Life Science IV
McMaster University

Last edited by Taunton : 01-12-2010 at 10:50 AM.
Old 01-12-2010 at 10:54 AM   #13
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arguments for downloading the book

idunno, maybe it's illegal and you're not supporting the author(s)

do you think they enjoy writing 300pg books for you to just download? if everyone started downloading, no books would be made since there wouldn't be any profit for them.

yes, piracythread.
Old 01-12-2010 at 12:32 PM   #14
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If the book is actually legal and legitimately free (like one in one of my classes), bring it to a copy shop (or the Docucentre in JHE or Underground) and get it printed there.

I printed it out there because we were told that midterms and the exam would be open book, and having a copy would be beneficial.

It was 200 pages, and it cost me $20 to get it printed out and spiral bound at Docucentre.
Software Engineering Class of '11

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