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Posted: July 28, 2011

Back to school 2.0: Five eBook resources to save you time and money

By Melissa Patterson

West Palm Beach, Fla. —

College students: Your fall semester has likely just begun, but chances are you’re still waiting on a book or two from a discount textbook site. Why not give up on the achingly long waits of Media Mail and buy all your books online instantly?
Thanks to America’s lust for the Kindle, Nook and iPad, eBooks are more readily available than ever before. But even a cash-strapped college student without a tablet device or eReader can take advantage of the trend. My impoverished peers, this post is for you.
Before you sit down to buy, ask yourself a couple of questions. Which devices will you have at your disposal come class time? Is the class held in a computer lab? If so, a web-based eBook with highlighting and note-taking capabilities will suit your needs. If not, a laptop or netbook might serve the same role in a pinch. And for the perpetually connected smartphone user, the iPhone and Android app stores are packed with eReaders to suit all tastes.
What’s the subject matter of the book you’re seeking? If it’s English, you may be able to skate by without purchasing a book at all, thanks to a number of “public works” websites and apps. Check out Tech Tonic’s list of five great time- or money-saving resources to get your books online:

  • 1. Coursesmart: The web is home to countless eBook sellers, but most feature novels and popular non-fiction rather than textbooks. Coursemart, which bills itself as “the world’s largest provider of digital course materials,” boasts more than 90 percent of “core textbooks” used in North America colleges and universities. eBooks are rented for a large discount off the book’s retail price and can be accessed via a Web-based reader or downloaded. Books are even accessable via iPhone and iPad apps.
  • 2. If the eBook is one you expect to reference for years to come, a more traditional eBook seller might be the way to go. Texts from come in a variety of formats, including those compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, MobiPocket, iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. I recommend Adobe Digital Editions for its robust annotation and printing options.
  • 3. Free Books: The sales pitch of this app for iPhone and iPad is simple: “23,469 classic for less than a cup of coffee.” The app goes for $1.99 and includes many of the classics your literature or history professor might assign, including Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas and Thomas Paine. One caveat: This app is a convenient, searchable package, but all these texts can likely be obtained elsewhere for free.
  • 4. NetLibrary: When hunting for a copy of your textbook, don’t neglect your school’s affiliation with NetLibrary, if applicable. The site offers more than 146,000 titles in PDF format, not to mention audiobooks.
  • 5. Project Gutenberg: The ultimate freebie site for lit majors features 33,000 titles in ePub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats. While the site’s top 100 list includes mostly historical novels, it also offers math texts, foreign language dictionaries, the Bible and the Kama Sutra.

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