E-book site for students promises to save trees, money

CafeScribe offers online textbooks with highlighting, note-taking and the ability to share notes and discuss books with a study group.

Every June, I am as elated as the next student to have a three-month respite from the confines of school. But, come August, you can find me on, frantically buying an inordinate number of books for every class--in many cases, more than two books per class.

CafeScribe highlighting feature
Here's what the site's highlighting and note-taking feature looks like. CafeScribe

Naturally, my curiosity was stirred upon hearing about a new project from CafeScribe, launched by Salt Lake City-based Fourteen40. The program allows users to buy and download electronic textbooks online. That's nothing particularly groundbreaking, though it could save me some neck and back problems if it cut down on the pounds of books I usually have to lug around. And it could save me money too. The site says it offers books at half their retail price, and one-third the cost of used books.

But saving students' posture and money aren't CafeScribe's only goals. The site has environmental ambitions as well. The group recently conducted a study, noting that most student textbooks average 715 pages. With this in mind, the company found that the total amount of textbook pages an average student purchases amounts to a little more than one tree's worth of paper each year, and about six trees in their four years in college.

The site has some cool features for students opting to go the digital route. These include color-coded virtual highlighters, a way to organize your digital books into categories based on subject matter and a way to share your notes with friends, all of which are indicative of the site's desire to get students to go digital.

However, one qualm I have about CafeScribe is the fact that I can no longer manually annotate my books. Sometimes you just want to sit in your pajamas on Sunday night, underlining the most important lines of material and trying to make sense of them. The same cannot be done digitally; no amount of clicking my mouse can calm my frazzled mind the way my handy highlighter can.

Also, there's a fine line between getting help from fellow classmates and stealing their work. Sometimes Web sites like this blur the line more than most schools would like. CafeScribe, for instance, has a feature that allows users to see other students' notes on particular passages.

In any case, the site is currently in beta but hopes to launch officially this fall. They also plan to include a social-networking aspect, allowing students to form study groups to discuss books and compare notes. Kudos to CafeScribe for trying to save the environment and allow poor college students to be...well...less poor.

Sabena Suri, a CNET summer intern, will start her senior year of high school in the fall.