As Amazon readies its next round of Kindles (slimmer! better! cheaper!), there’s an increasing consensus that it will be targeting the college market. This makes sense: College textbooks are expensive, bulky, and usually only used for a few months, then returned/resold. Perfect candidates for digital delivery.
But just because something should be delivered digitally doesn’t mean that it will. And in this case, textbook publishers are very happy with the arrangement they’ve got: Students are a captive market, and publishers can keep a lid on the sale of used books by continually releasing updated versions of their texts.
And unlike Hollywood and the music business, publishers are unlikely to be the victims of mass-market piracy, an affliction which tends to speed up the move to digital. Remember that the only reason conventional Kindle titles are priced at a relatively low $9.99 and below is because Jeff Bezos is subsidizing the cost. E-books may be the future, but publishers aren’t in any hurry to get there.
So how will Amazon crack the campus market? Our guess: By positioning the Kindle as an ancillary study aide — one that can supplement textbooks instead of replacing them.
For instance, the machine is perfectly well-suited to display course packs — the assorted, photocopied collection of excerpted reading materials instructors often use in addition to hardcover books. Traditionally, these have been sold via the campus copy shop, but they’d be easy enough to digitize via scanner and publish via Amazon’s self-serve system. And increasingly, they’re being used in digital-only form to begin with: Students just look up the materials via the school’s Web site. That makes it even easier to port to the devices.
Best of all, Jeff Bezos should be able to get into the course pack business without the help of publishers, since the excerpts are generally covered by fair use exemptions. Publishers may one day realise that delivering their products in bit form, via a partner that’s committed to making a real business out of it, is a good decision. But until then, Amazon can do it without them.
Photo via brokentrinkets
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