I've been using CourseSmart's electronic textbook service since the Fall 2010 semester. It looks like they have just recently implemented a pretty big change in their business model or whatever--the CourseSmart/VitalSource bookshelf client is no longer needed because the books are generally only available online now, (read: web browser, app for your smartphone, etc.). They have an offline browsing/reading feature, which seems to work OK on Firefox 4 on Windows. They simultaneously say Yes! You Can read your books on line, and in the fine print, it's still in Beta. Brilliant. (Idiots).
The last few books I bought (rented) from CourseSmart did not have the option of choosing whether to read online, or download and use in the CourseSmart/VitalSource bookshelf client. (I prefer the latter by a mile).
Getting (now online only) copies of the electronic textbooks from CourseSmart has pros and cons. You can't beat the search feature, which beats the hell out of flipping through pages. Highlights, notes, yes, yes. Perfect? By no means. Cheap? kinda. Time limited? You betcha, 180 days. I think they finally nailed down the 'remember what bloody page I left off at' feature. Seriously. Better late than never.
I miss the local Bookshelf client, (draconian DRM time-bomb and all). The Web page bookshelf reader has only two zoom settings
. This is in one word: rubbish! The CourseSmart/VitalSource bookshelf client would fit the page to your screen, (or facing pages--which the web version doesn't do), to match your screen, (either full page, or by page width, similar to Acrobat), and supported a full screen mode.
I can only estimate this has to do with licensing, cracking down on crackers, etc. etc. Bottom line: a reasonable product has been replaced by a mediocre one. But their prices haven't dropped. Bunch of wankers. Sucks, because much like Microsoft, you can have a mediocre product like QDOS renamed..., and still become the industry heavy weight.
Yes, there's a lot to be said for still having the regular hard copy. For open book quizzes, performing fast searches, etc., you can't beat the search feature. Now is it work paying another (roughly 40% of the retail price) for a 180-day rental of the book? You decide.
If you like amateur night (and presumably dollar drinks), then CourseSmart is for you.