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'Kindle with Special Offers' - Higher Ed Opportunities and Threats
April 12, 2011 - 9:15pm

The deal is that for $25 bucks less, or $114, Amazon will sell you a Kindle that displays "special offers and sponsored screensavers". Amazon promises to keep ads out of books, only showing the promotions on the bottom of the home screen and when the Kindle goes into screensaver mode.

This is smart on Amazon's part, and will accelerate sales by pushing price points down faster than Moore's law normally allows. We are a holiday shopping season away from the $99 Kindle, 1 year away from Kindles provided to free to Amazon Prime members, and 2 years away from free sponsored (text only) Kindles. (Amazon will diversify the Kindle line to include up-scale models with color e-ink and the ability to do video, keeping a free/cheap black and white text only model in the lineup).

Really cheap Kindles offer both opportunities threats for higher ed:

Opportunities:

  • Academic libraries will be able to invest in digital e-book holdings, rather than shelf space, with the confidence that all students will be able to access the digital books. This should translate into larger potential holdings, as new models (such as rentals or patron driven acquisitions), replace existing physical book buying models.
  • Coursepacks can finally move away from photocopies and paper, and into digital formats including e-book files that will be available to all students.
  • Campus printing costs can finally lose their subsidy, pricing printing at the true hardware / consumable / environmental costs, as e-paper will have a ubiquitous platform for which it can be read.
  • Student publications, campus newspapers, and other university subsidized paper printing can finally end, as everyone will have e-readers to look at e-paper.
  • Textbook costs should finally go down, as digital distribution channels provided by Amazon and other providers coupled with universal access to e-readers will increase the competitiveness in the textbook market, driving down costs.

Threats:

  • Higher ed and Amazon have not figured out how to work together. This is a huge missed opportunity for both of us. We don't have any library or institutional e-book buying models from Amazon. We don't have any lending e-book models from Amazon. Amazon is losing the next generation of book readers and book buyers, and libraries risk losing relevance as patrons seek digital books that can be played on their preferred devices from consumer providers.
  • We will not move fast enough to make course material available on e-readers such as the Kindle, ensuring that our course readings are less likely to be read.
  • A mismatch will develop between how students want to acquire books (digital / instantly / on their devices / from a limitless library), and how they are forced to borrow books from our academic libraries (paper / with a delay / from a building / from a limited collection).
  • With cheap or free Kindles, and a limitless library of new books that are easily searchable and instantly downloadable, the Amazon book buying experience will feel dramatically more pleasurable than the traditional paper, book borrowing experience. Patrons will be unhappy with an academic library experience that evolves in academic and library time, as this experience will be compared and contrasted with the Kindle/Amazon experience that evolves at a consumer pace.
  • The growth of cheap e-readers and e-books will entice us to spend precious resources and time chasing this trend, losing sight of our true education, scholarship and service mission.

Where do I get these opportunities and threats wrong? How would you add to these lists?

On balance, will cheap Kindle's be good, bad or indifferent for higher ed?

 

 

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