Course PackPublish

Should I Publish My Course Pack in Print or Digitally?

student reading

Consider both print and digital course pack.

In our 3-year research that included over 10,000 LAD published course packs, when given a choice between print or digital, 70% of students chose the printed version while 30% went digital (e-book).

Step back a couple of decades, when the cheaper and environmentally-friendly Digital came onto the scene. There was a lot of fanfare. Streamers. Confetti. Digital strutted into the ring and proceeded to pound Print into a stupor. Some in the crowd chucked rotten tomatoes at Print. “Print is dead! Print is dead!”

Not so fast, says our research.
Over the Fall semesters of 2015, 2016 and 2017, LAD Custom Publishing studied 10,000 printed course packs that included a free code to access the digital version, giving students a choice.

In the Fall of 2015, out of 3,610 course packs only 1,101 students preferred the digital version.

In the Fall of 2016, out of 3,449 course packs only 963 students preferred the digital version.

In the Fall of 2017, out of 3,540 course packs only 1,103 students preferred the digital version.

infographic reading percentages


Some Students Prefer Print

A good chunk of readers still values the experience of physical paper. In fact, according to Noami Baron’s research in Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, “92% of college students prefer print books to e-books.” And these are the digital-natives the industry was waiting on to enter the higher education arena and demand all electronic. Well, the digital-natives are here now. Some prefer print.

A Washington Post article, titled “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading In Print,” does a great job of detailing reasons why:

  • Feel of a printed book
  • Taking notes on the book
  • Less Distraction
  • Easier to Follow Story
  • Some students even reported “liking the smell of paper”

Keep in mind, a course pack differs from a traditional textbook. A course pack is a collection of various course materials – scholarly and journal articles, business cases, book chapters, anthology selections, etc. – assembled into one pack. We’re not talking about War and Peace, which I wouldn’t want to read on a tablet, either. Because of this difference, because in a course pack there are smaller sections to soak in, students should be more willing to take on the material digitally. This may explain why our research showed 30% prefer Digital versus the 8% that Noami Baron’s study reflected. Still, the numbers do not reflect the fanfare that Digital swooped into the ring with.

Some Students Prefer Digital

Even if at a slower pace than first imagined, Digital is on the rise. If you choose not to publish your course pack electronically you may lose students, a good number of whom rely on digital format. Of the college students who own a tablet, 98% of them use it to download digital textbooks* (*fatwallet.com).

The type of material plays a role, too. In our research, the big digital winner for the Fall 2016 and Fall 2017 semesters was the same business management course pack that had 63% of students choose to read the course pack digitally in 2016 and 57% in the Fall of 2017.

This particular course pack was over 300 pages and consisted of 17 separate journal articles and business cases. It was encased in a binder. Because of the size, and the type of smaller articles that can be quickly flipped through on a digital platform, it makes sense that reading preferences between print and digital split the middle.

Besides the benefit of not having to lug around a large binder, a digital course pack can also include links to alternative sources of information. Some students prefer digital format because it’s easy to locate information – there is no CTRL+F in a printed book.

There’s a good amount of options with a digital course pack:

  • Cheaper
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Links to alternative sources
  • Links to videos

In the Washington Post article mentioned above, students prefer digital for “classes whose electronic [materials] often include access to online portals that help walk them through study problems.”



The LAD Digital Portal is a safe, secure and cost-effective way to deliver your course pack, and custom material, electronically. Students have a choice of downloading PDF, using our cloud reader or our LAD Reader iPad app. The LAD Portal also hosts videos.

So, consider both print and digital versions of your course pack.

Technological advancements in education have historically been made swiftly. The handheld calculator replaced the slide ruler without much fuss. Instructors were glad to replace film projectors that always jammed with televisions and VCRs. Scantrons were invented, freeing up time. With digital course packs and textbooks, though, the advancement is not as swift. We’re in the transition period now. You may want to consider publishing both print and digital versions.

Options are available. Just as course packs are a truly custom item designed specifically for the course you’re teaching, the delivery method can be custom, as well.