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. Caroline says:

    Well said, Brendan. Here at UGA (35,000 students) I’ve never seen a Kindle–OK, OK, it is a party school–BUT I do see everyone with a hip Apple computer and their fancy I-Phone or whatever they’re called.

    I don’t see professors nor Universities going for the Kindle. There is BIG money in textbooks, as we all know, and no one is going to let go of that easily. The time is coming for a textbook-less way of schooling, and I agree with you, Kindle doesn’t have the market on that.

  2. R.J.G. says:

    Your comments make sense but why did your competitor proceed in the first place, a question we have had for sometime?

    We assume your competitor has identified a huge new market based on world wide market research prepared by a very large excellent research partner. We know the partner sometimes makes mistakes but likely the market opportunity here is real and correctly identified.

    “Get there first” is one possible explanation. Many good books written about improperly tested beta products marketed on the internet without proper due diligence and business planning. “Power failure The inside story of the collapse of Enron” by Mimi Swartz with Sherron Watkins written in 2003 discusses Enron’s aspirations to market video’s on the internet. Market opportunity existed, but good implementation strategy lacking.

    Competition is possibly another reason. Your comments about “CourseSmart” very helpful.

    Google’s interest in the book market is possibly the real objective. We noticed Google is supplying some software to the new products.

    Surprising comments from your competitor their new product is preliminary and evolving. Surprising because your competitor reports selling out of production runs. We expected unsold product as customers wait for new models.

    Mimi Swartz tells the story of a Speech in Houston by Skilling of Enron. Skilling received a standing ovation from most people except for a few people that remained seated. A Canadian Executive that remained seated turned to the executive beside him also remaining seated and said, now “that’s a short.”

    Your article reports the electronic opportunity.. Hopefully can help their sellers with feasible creative and practical business solutions

    Glad to hear you like “Uncle Buck” as well

  3. vizma1 says:

    LOOKING AHEAD by Wally Dobelis

    Collecting signed Ernest Hemingway books
    In a recent trip, chatting with fellow-passengers about the books we carry, an Ohio schoolteacher denounced paper reading material as obsolete, and non-green. He only reads Kindle books and free newspapers on Internet (NYTimes was mentioned). His wife chimed in that library books spread germs.

    All that made me sick, no fault of germs, and turn green (nothing personal, fellow environment cherishers). Old books have been part of my life, and libraries were my playgrounds. People collect old porcelain for its beauty and old paintings for their grace and history, and old books because that’s where knowledge resides. A New Yorker writer recently examined Kindle-available titles against his library and found very few meaningful authors electronically represented. A matter of time, you say? Eventually the libraries will be superfluous and un- necessary? Maybe, and so will be brains and thought processes, since all knowledge and opinions (qualified by polls or ayatollahs) will be retrievable from data bases and TV.

    I admire books, old, particularly those signed, touched by the author. It is like shaking hands with the mind I admire. My particular mental puzzle is Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), a man with a consistent handwriting, easily recognizable and forgery prone. What was in his mind when he turned the gun on himself in lonely Ketchum, Idaho? Whenever I visit a rare book show, I study the copies of his titles. He seemingly inscribed many books to unidentifiable friends and casual way companions, but had only one , his best remembered book, A Farewell to Arms, published in a 510 copy limited signed first edition, encased in a tight box, guaranteed authentic .

    Speaking of boxed limited signed editions as a whole, they are pernicious to the survival of the book in a pristine condition; taking the copy in and out is destructive of the vellum or cloth spine. I never dare to do it without permission, for fear of making an inadvertent perilous move.

    Speaking as a collector, of the 510 Hemingway’s 1929 first edition Farewell to Arms limited signed copies only a few have survived in fair condition, and only one in pristine condition, with the box fully complete, an important point. It is for sale at Glenn Horowitz’s book emporium in New York. I have wondered whether the book’s condition survived because the owner broke the edges of the pristine box and restored them more loosely, to gain access to his own treasure without damaging it. (Glenn Horowitz, incidentally, is an internationally known dealer who finds homes for Presidents’ and authors’ personal collections, accessible by appointment).

    Alas, the pleasures of collecting treasures are scary in a recession environment. People are looking for values that will resist the inflation lurking around the corner that certain economists warn us about. I have a neighbor who talks of relying on gold, incessantly, in elevators and in the building lobby. Old paintings and porcelain are part of the thinking; many modern pieces of art have not been time-tested, and some of the most avant-garde ones are made of organic materials that deteriorate, and should really come with a restorer’s guarantee, essentially an insurance policy. I will stick with the old values, old books from the 1600s and 1900s are surviving pretty well.

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