Can the Kindle Knockout Textbooks?

July 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, because the bell is tolling for textbooks. Amazon has announced that it is releasing two new Kindle devices and in doing so, may have killed the college textbook.

Ah, the college textbook. So valuable, so hated, and yet, so loved. I remember my favorite textbook – a complete history of the making of the atomic bomb. It was red, had bent edges (from a previous owner, but I wasn’t jealous) and weighed enough to serve as a bludgeoning device. The idea that future generations might be missing out on such a wonderful experience, sniff, just breaks my heart.

But, despite our love of our hefty friends, time might be running out. What will the new Kindle mean for students?

Higher Prices, Not Lower - Contrary to popular sentiment, the annihilation of printed textbooks could actually mean increased expenses for students. After all, the actual textbook data will have to be encrypted better than most credit card transactions. What stops someone from getting the latest edition of Philosophy 101 off of uTorrent? Nothing.

It Must be Cheap - If there’s one thing to be learned from the music industry, it’s that the price of the data has to be low… or at least low enough so students won’t result to illegal means to get their materials. Even the most secure textbook will likely be pirated and made freely downloadable – an irresistible temptation for students staring at a $500 per-quarter textbook bill.

They Need to be Realistic - The pillaging of the textbook industry (releasing three different editions a year, with expensive supplements) might come back to bite those in the printing industry if they don’t play their cards right. A company offering textbooks online for half the price of a hard copy will quickly reach the same status as Netflix or the iTunes store.

The fact is, if students are willing to give up paper textbooks for electronic versions, it had better be cheap as well as easy to use. Don’t forget students will have to be able to highlight sections, write notes near paragraphs, display colors for graphs and biology books, and have an easily accessible index (and you should be able to doodle in the margins as well). The Kindle may think it can wipe out textbooks, but without the right technology and applications, it will never be of use to the busy student.

Is Kindle going to be the new textbook powerhouse?

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Comment Thread (7 Responses)

  1. The only reason I’m partial to electronic books is because it cuts down on paper use. But why the gadget, why not just download textbooks to computers/laptops? (that is if students already have a computer, but if not it makes sense)

    Posted by: AJ0111   July 24, 2008
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  2. I agree with you AJ0111, I don’t think I would be inclined to buy the Kindle if I knew I could just as easily download textbooks to my laptop. Of course the Kindle is far more convenient to carry around, but I feel like I’m not the kind of student that does any hard studying “on the go,” anyway.

    Posted by: justinelee   July 25, 2008
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  3. I really don’t think the Kindle can take out textbooks. Even with a highlighting feature, being able to scribble notes in textbooks is extremely helpful. I admit that I don’t have a Kindle nor have I seen one in use, but there is a difference when you stare at a computer screen or at paper. Eye-strain and such. I do remember Professors attempting to cut down on textbook costs and paper use by posting articles online or having a hardcopy available. Most students would print/photocopy these articles because they wanted a paper copy on hand, that they could highlight, doodle on, or even write lecture notes on. All in all, I don’t think Kindle can eliminate textbooks. Cut down, perhaps, but not eradicate them completely.

    Posted by: jvarden   July 25, 2008
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  4. I think the Kindle will soon be replaced by an all-screen tablet comp that looks more like this.

    re: the eye strain, as the # of pixels and polygons we can pack into a screen increases, digital screens will get much easier on the eyes, opening a whole new window of easy interface. Folks like Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith believe we’ll reach screen-to-reality parity sometime in the teens.

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   July 25, 2008
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  5. That tablet does look quite nice and I’m all for reducing the amount of eye strain we get.

    Posted by: jvarden   July 25, 2008
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  6. If the Kindle textbook replaces textbooks, how will it record notes, highlights and the such? Will it have to turn the text file into a image file (thereby making the Kindle run out of space)? What about color images? I still think it’s a long way off, and nothing beat a book in your hand, it just feels great. Plus, you can’t leave a Kindle on your bookshelf and have someone visiting think you’re smart because you have a Calc 235 textbook, it’ll just be a Kindle.

    Posted by: martymcfly   July 25, 2008
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  7. I personally think that e-devices are much more convenient than heavy expensive textbooks. Moreover, an article like is a lot better and more informative than a $200 textbook

    Posted by: maryjbutron   December 26, 2017
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