The Big Kindle; a Bibliophile’s Prognosis

The Buick got bigger.  Amazon announced yesterday the release of the new, large format Kindle, specifically designed to appeal to students.  Unfortunately, I think that its doomed to fail in the college market – at least on its own merits for three intertwined reasons.

As a reader, a book industry guy, and an at-least-one-course-a-year student for the past 19 years, I can appreciate the potential of e-books – especially in lieu of big, expensive, heavy textbooks (which is basically a nasty little racket with many universities in clever collusion).  However, I don’t think I’m off the mark in declaring this one a complete dud.

  1. Price/value.   At $489, there is simply no value for a student. Why would I buy a Kindle for $489 to download textbooks from Amazon (only, mind you) when I can head over to Dell and buy a full laptop for $449 and download textbooks from CourseSmart – which is almost guaranteed to be cheaper since its a partnership owned by the major textbook publishers – meaning students bypass Amazon as a middle man?  And, you can do <gasp> other things on it, like take notes!  Solution for Amazon, then?  Reduce the price on the Kindle.  But then they run afoul of another problem, below:
  2. Not remotely cool.  If you can’t deliver on price/value, then you have to have a certain cool factor – ala Apple – to compete in the college market.  Amazon simply doesn’t possess anything in the way of cult-of-personality branding, and the Kindle (which I still maintain looks like a mid-eighties Buick) kind of makes them look like Uncle Buck.  So they have zero equity in this bin; couple that with a price reduction, and they end up pretty common and uncool and, as a result, with negative cool equity that makes the Kindle look like wearing a pair of Wrangler jeans to a club (which you had to catch a ride to in your dusty old uncle’s Buick).
  3. Not the direction technology is going. And students are further down this path than most.  The trend right now is smaller and smaller devices that allow you to multitask anything anytime from one device.  Having a device that’s locked down to a single purpose really doesn’t help students achieve what they want.  There’s a reason no one carries around 1) an MP3 player, 2) a cellphone, and 3) a camera jammed into their pockets.  They want fewer devices doing more, not more devices doing less! In fact, these days, I often leave my laptop behind when I travel in favor of my smartphone.

So my prognosis is that we will see very limited adoption of the large format Kindle in the college market, even far less than the adoption in general of the regular Kindle.  Unless Amazon manages to find themselves some kind of inside track and preferential distribution contracts and/or support from the faculty members within the university system.  Simply put, I don’t think that the Kindle is remotely capable of standing on its own in the college textbook market, at least not without a good bit of  back-scratching and good ole’ boy friends at our institutions of higher learning.

Much more likely for the future of the e-book in the college market is digital delivery to a laptop or smartphone, IMHO.

4 thoughts on “The Big Kindle; a Bibliophile’s Prognosis”

  1. Pingback: RIP e-readers: 2010 - 2010? |
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