eBook Review: Vital Source

Welcome back to another Textbook Guru eBook Review. We’ve looked into a lot of eBook platforms so far, so if you’ve missed any you can easily get caught up with our new eBook Review section.

This week we’re taking a look at another very prominent platform on the scene. VitalSource was founded in 1994, making it one of the oldest eBook platforms. In 2006 it was acquired by Ingram Industries and is currently Ingram’s fastest growing business. Today, VitalSource is “the most preferred and most used e-textbook delivery system in higher education with over 2,000,000 registered users on 6,000 campuses in 200 countries and territories worldwide.”

VitalSource touts its ‘Bookshelf’ eReader as ‘the most advanced e-book software in the world,’ which is quite the claim, so lets see if it holds up.

First of all, Bookshelf lets you access your textbooks in three ways, online from any computer with a web browser, from your mobile device through iOS apps (sorry Android users), or by downloading your books for offline use. Any notes or highlights you make in any version of the text are automatically synced with your account so they will be visible no matter where you read from.

Speaking of highlighting, this process is largely the same as other eReaders we’ve seen and you can even add a note tied to a highlight. Bookshelf has two additional highlighting features that I haven’t seen elsewhere. First, instead of just using different colors, you can name your highlight color, so referencing ‘test prep’ highlights or ‘quotes’ highlights is very easy. Second, and more importantly, you can dig into your friends list (added through email invites) and subscribe to a friends highlights.

It’s easy to see how this could be useful, especially if you have a study group or you’re working on a group project. Or better yet, you may be able to subscribe to your professors highlights. You can even search through their notes.

Of course what eBook platform would be complete without support for rich media? Media-enhanced books from VitalSource let you watch embedded video, flip through slides, see animated diagrams and link out to external resources.

When it comes time to study, VitalSource is the procrastinators friend. You can easily search in one book or all of your books for that concept from your study guide you can’t remember. You can also search just through your notes or even your friends’ and teachers’ notes to turn up even more insight, and finding definitions is as easy as right-clicking on any word in the text.

Now your studying can integrate more seamlessly with the rest of your academic life thanks to a partnership between VitalSource and Blackboard. “With the integration, there would be no extra software for users to install, no separate logins and passwords to remember,” said Kent Freeman, chief operating officer of Vital Source. “You get immediate access to the digital copies of your textbooks, and they are an integral part of your Blackboard Learn courses.”

Blackboard integration makes access to VitalSource content even easier, but the quality of the content is also important. VitalSource boasts that ‘unlike other e-book platforms that tie you into a particular publisher’s content, or to a particular vendor’s device, Bookshelf supports content from all the major education publishers, and gets you access on the device that works for you.”

It’s easy to see how this inherent flexibility and availability makes Bookshelf a strong contender in the ever growing eTextbook market. Combine all this on the student side with VitalSources tools for publishers, institutions and resellers and you’ve got an impressive platform capable of serving many sides of the textbook market, but in a digital format.

Comments (29)

  1. jeanjoe

    that sound so good,thanks

  2. david

    It sucks when it comes to trying to set up study notes. I cannot copy charts to any MS software package without it loosing the formating. You can copy tables however and text, but still the formating is screwed up. Try printing and it takes trial and error to get selections to print formated correctly. Each page came out 3×5 in size. I like the software only because, I have no other choice for the text books required. It is truly the procrastinators friend, because it has procrastinated in allowing study notes to be created. It needs some sore of journal, one note, word processor or the ability and flexibility to truly copy and paste allowing students to create their own study guides. We are not interested in copying the book, just parts and pieces to pass the class.

    As for using it on an android tablet. Don’t – it is flexible enough to allow reading and highliting, thats it.

    For my part i give this software a “D+”

    Thank you
    David B.

  3. Joyce M. Williams

    I am seeking an e-textbook, Global Criteria:The 12 Core Functions. The author is John Herdman, 4th edition, 2008
    ISBN #978 0976 8341 20

  4. sheik syed mohaideen

    I have created an epub3 file with videos. It works well in Readium but in vitalsource the videos are not playing.
    please help me.

    1. thetextbookguru (Post author)

      you will need to contact VitalSource directly for help.

  5. sheik syed mohaideen

    does vital source play .webm format. if not what are all other formats that it can play?

  6. Jerry

    I use latest release (Oct 8, 2012) on Nexus 7 running 4.2.2.
    To make this short — VitalSource Bookshelf is a substandard app, lacking some basic functionality. In particular: (a) it does NOT paginate correctly (especially toward the end of chapters, usually the right portion of the page is missing), (b) flipping page forward can send you several pages backward, (c) no provision for speech synthesis / reading aloud.
    If your book is offered to work with another content management / reader, stay away from VitalSource.

  7. Owen

    If Vital Source Bookshelf is the most advanced in the world then ebooks have no future. It is one of the worst pieces of software development I have seen (I am a retired developer). It is clunky, non-user friendly, scrolling is jerky and inefficient, indexes are not linked, pagination does not work, page movements are not seamless… I could go on. If your ebook seller is only offering Vital Source Bookshelf as its only platform then buy the book not the ebook you will be thankful you did.

    1. Pamela

      I agree! HATE IT!

    2. Jacqueline Stolz

      I agree with this! I am a librarian for a school that uses Vital Source, and it is such a pain. They make changes (not for the better) EVERY SEMESTER, so the students are confused and unhappy all the time.

    3. Kevin

      Completely agree. I wish I had read your review before buying the e-book. Navigation is way too slow. Clicking the down scrollbar takes you to the next page, rather than the bottom of the page. The toolbar is not customizable. Many quirks. A simple .pdf format would be much more satisfying.

      Huge regrets about buying this.

    4. Jennifer

      This program is horrible. I am a very tech-friendly person and this is the worst e-book program I have ever used. Highlighter function is not fluent and entire chapters will be highlighted without clicking anything and then you are unable to delete them. Customer service is subpar and does not actually try to fix the problem.

    5. Courtney Pauley

      I’m bringing this back from the dead, too. VitalSource is STILL garbage. Hot, putrid garbage. Everything you mentioned, Owen, is still an issue.

    6. Kevin

      It’s now 2017 and the program is still crap. Fairly confident this crappy software is going to result in a crap mark in the online course I am currently taking.

  8. Joy

    Do not buy from CRCpress (they will sell you the book but you can only read it from Vital Source online) and do not use Vital Source. They are cheaters! They don’t let you download the book as PDF. Reading online, or using their app offline, both are simply horrible.

  9. T J Patterson

    Hey, I just got Vital Source Bookshelf from my school for it’s E-Books curriculum 03-2015. As a paper book person, I’m not impressed. The review reads more like a press release than a fact based review, just sayin’.
    Any more current/newer reviews?

  10. Dev

    Whoever wrote the bog(thetextbookguru) mustn’t have explored any other online book reader app. With a background of software Engineering , I advise you to stay away from this garbage eBook software. This software will not even graded average in school project, don’t know how big corporations are promoting this substandard software. Seems like the software is designed in a very poor manner with lack of user friendliness. Hard to install(Only tried on WinXP, Win7.0 and Win8.0), pops up with vague error which is hard to troubleshoot. Offers very limited functionality on desktop app. Doesn’t work on pads, phone not even in computer properly. Vital source customer service with Sub par knowledge on computer doesn’t understand how to resolve issues , and I have ever come across with such a inefficient way of handling customer issues. Kindle, nook or cloud reader are far better app than vital source bookshelf.

    1. S

      @Dev Do you know how to convert VitalSource Bookshelf e-book into PDF formatting?

  11. K. Dada

    Bought a ebook for my wife on textbooks.com and it uses Vitalsource. This is the worst DRM I have ever seen since Microsoft. No access to PDF or the software on Linux. The ebook can only print 2 pages at time and cannot print to PDF file. I paid $40.00 for the book and have no recourse to get my money becasue I tried to use my crapwindows box to run it and is considered activated.

  12. Steve

    I can now only access my course textbooks using this program and I must say that I echo every thread above. I was trying to get on board with this program and my first class went okay, but my second course there was a change in the behavior of the program. I could no longer scroll the entire chapter, rather one page-at-a-time, nor can I zoom the text using my desktop PC and have it stay zoomed, for it switches to the default tiny size on the next page, forcing me to mouse click the magnifier icon for EACH page turn, wasting so much effort and time. The e-books were much better when we could download them as a PDF document. I have no interest in book piracy, for we had to log into the protected PDF file. I could pan and zoom using my favorite PDF reader, which accommodated my not-so-stellar eyesight. I have to read an enormous amount of material in my MBA program and I am now way behind in my class because I am having to constantly wrestle with this horrible program. I may have to file an ADA accommodation with my school to have a PDF e-book exception to be sent to me.

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  14. Sooner

    Vitalsource Bookshelf has to be the worst e-book software I have even used. It’s totally a piece of crap! Unfortunately I have to use it for my required reading; how someone put something like this out to the market is beyond my understanding. Worse… customer service is non existing.

  15. Phil

    This is terrible – you can not search in 90% of text books. Or if you search is successful it places it partially in a tab, once you clink on the preferred search option it does not take you to the page, nor does it provide a page number or chapter – Absolute rubbish.

  16. Terry

    Vital source is slow and clunky to the point of being totally useless.
    Keeps telling me “Not responding”.
    If I type in 24-040 it will give me everything starting with 24. In a tax act with 2000 pages that is a waste of time. I could find it quicker in the text book.
    I have tried to get assistance but they have not returned any of my calls.
    I rate them as a “don’t go there”.

  17. Tom

    I couldn’t stand Vitalsource years ago when I first used it, and it’s only gotten worse now after years of experience with it. There’s literally nothing that I’ve seen this piece of software do that cannot be done with a simple PDF viewer / editor. The bulky software has had a lot of problems, including users suddenly becoming incapable of using or accessing the navigation pane (myself included). Frequent restarts are almost a necessity for this software, especially when reading multiple chapters of information. If you’re required to use this software, good luck – if you’re deciding on what software to use, you’re better off avoiding this nightmare. Good luck!


    So, who would you use instead of Vitalsource? What would you recommend instead of Bookshelf? I am looking into publishing 2 text ebooks for doctors and need a platform such as Vitalsource to do so.

  19. William Martin

    I’ve tried this software on my PC and on an iPad for a Stata book, which offers only this ebook option. Have called Vitalsource for help twice. Help agents were quite good and helped me reinstall on the PC. But the e-reader remains terrible. Glacial to load, jerky and erratic. On the iPad, it builds in a long lag between turning the page and seeing the next page. Next to unusable. Very unhappy user.

  20. Alison

    I see that this review is from 2013 – which is probably why my review will be so different. VitalSource eReader runs slow and crashes often on Windows 10. Next semester I may actually purchase the hardback books just to avoid this kind of frustration. I am a nursing student with hundreds of pages to read each week. Will steer clear of VitalSource in the future.

  21. john smith

    2017 – horrible, horrible horrible!!!!
    If you use Windows+arrow to move the window to another screen, it for some reason looses where you were and brings you to the beginning of the chapter.
    The highlighting is the worst. Sometime it won’t load up. Should you accidentally highlight item you did not want to highlight and then want to delete it, many sometime it will start deleting words, and even after you close the window and try again it keeps doing it.
    FIX YOUR THIS!!!!!
    I have no choice to use this but it is very very very frustrating!!!!
    Businesses who outsource to this provider, please please please stop supporting this horrible software!


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