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Textbooks are a massive opportunity for e-book readers and distributors, perhaps even larger than trade books, which have dominated the e-book conversation to-date.
Based on our research, Apple, not Amazon, is in the best position to capture this market.
Textbooks currently only account for 15% of e-book sales versus 39% for print, but they should rapidly gain share.
Students have become increasingly mobile, so the need for a device to cater to all their needs, from communication to graphics to reading, has become paramount in the search for the right e-reader to address the education market.
We made calls to universities that have been evaluating various e-readers and e-book formats and found that most expect to partner with Apple’s iPad in its e-reader initiatives.
This is because:
- Apple already has a massive infrastructure built to promote and distribute its products to universities and it will take time for its competitors to replicate that.
- Amazon and Sony have improved their devices in recent releases but universities are still not satisfied.
- The iPad appears to solve the portability issues and lack of features many universities have cited for not embracing Amazon and Sony readers.
APPLE ALREADY HAS AN IMPORTANT “IN” WITH UNIVERSITIES
Apple has a competitive advantage over other e-reader companies since it already has the infrastructure and relationships in place to enter and support universities with new products (many would like to supply their students with e-readers in classrooms and perhaps include them as part of tuition and need significant support to do this). It could take Apple’s competitors a long time to build a comparable infrastructure.
What does that mean?
According to universities we spoke with Apple has been working with them for years in the following ways:
- Providing free equipment for research and “beta” products before they are publicly released for feedback (they did not do this with the iPad, according to universities we spoke with).
- Apple even has a sales rep in many states specifically meant to call on local universities to make sure Apple’s products are being used optimally on campus. We’ve heard the company even helped “promote” gatherings at campuses around the iPad press conference. One university had so many students watching online it blew its server.
- Wholesale distribution agreements for computers and phones at significant discounts (to be fair, Amazon and Sony could provide the same incentives).
INITIAL REVIEWS INDICATE SONY AND THE KINDLE ARE OK FOR TEXTBOOKS BUT DON’T “MAKE THE GRADE” AT THIS POINT
Some universities have been testing the Kindle and Sony E-Readers as substitutes for print text books. The reviews have generally been mixed.
For example, Penn State tested the Sony PRS-505 a little over a year ago and found that students would not replace their print books with e-books if they owned a Sony e-reader due to the following reasons:
- No multi-media or proper internet capability (this was the biggest complaint and highest priority in terms of preferred features).
- Cannot interact with the text or take notes in the margins.
- Poor navigation features which makes it cumbersome to turn pages or switch books.
- No backlight for reading in dimly lit places (like college libraries).
Northwest Missouri State participated in a similar test with similar feedback. In their case students actually asked for their textbooks back after two weeks.
Since then Sony has released improved editions of its e-reader that address these concerns, except importantly the lack of multi-media capability. This is a big hole in their product offerings according to universities we spoke with, which will make wholesale adoption difficult.
RIGHT NOW UNIVERSITIES WILL ADOPT THE IPAD GIVEN ITS MULTI-MEDIA FEATURES AND SIZE
Universities we contacted said that a lack of multi-media capability remains the biggest hurdle to mass adoption of e-readers at universities since use of multi-media functions and the internet have become an increasingly important part of academic studies both inside and outside the classroom.
It appears that Apple has addressed this need by including superior internet functionality, access to most of the same apps that are available on the iphone, and better graphics and design tools. As a result, universities we spoke with are eagerly awaiting the iPad’s arrival and plan to quickly distribute iPads to students for testing.
In addition, right now the iPad appears to be the best combination of size and portability available. Students thought the Sony and Kindle readers were too small for optimal textbook reading. In addition, Northwest Missouri State gave every student a notebook computer after they returned the Sony devices, but students felt they were not comfortable enough to carry around with them.
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