We read today in the Bookseller that ‘Amazon prepares for 'textbook e-reader wars'’. The story emulates from Evan Schnittman, vice-president global business development at Oxford University Press who claims that amazon had revealed the device early so it could stake out its territory before the academic market becomes home to the "textbook e-reader wars".
The reality is that there will be a battleground in all levels of education for what is a very lucrative prize, that of the device of choice for students of all ages and the sale of content to them. Will the solution be the same? It’s a hard call, but what is clear is that the device by itself will not be the answer. The device plus ebooks, in whatever format, is even not the answer. To everyone but the textbook publisher these are merely part of the answer.
Students require connectivity, reference, to be able to capture notes, bookmark, diaries, collate files, create documents, will probably not be restricted to text, or even greyscale. Therefore ask yourself as a student with limited disposable income, would you rather invest in a Kindle DX at $489 (£325) or more suitable devices that are not tied to content and a single business model and that can’t connect to all resources and can do more than download and store mere documents.
Ask these three basic questions to the students:
Do you own a iphone?
Do you own a kindle?
Do you own a laptop / netbook?
Next ask them if they don’t have all the above would they expect to buy one in the next 12months?
The King or Kindle may have new clothes but it’s the same underneath.
In the digital textbook wars, the winners are likely to be the publishers who follow two critical principles.
1. Don't 'own' the reader. Schools will want to either choose that for themselves, taking into account factors such as price and ruggedness, or allow parents and students to make the choice. Do try to dictate their decisions or lock them in. In the long run, they will resent that and rebel.
For a publisher, that means going with an open standard such as ePub. Have textbooks the student can read on anything including their iPod touch and a home PC.
2. License in bulk without DRM. Students will pirate texts because suing one person, particularly a child or student, isn't worth the expense. Schools are much less likely to pirate since they are worth suing. Market to schools not individuals.
For a publisher, that means putting the stress on licensing texts to states (for state-wide textbooks), to schools (for standard classes), or to classes (where the teacher selects the texts as in college). Have no DRM and let students make as many copies as they want--for example, a reader for class and a PC at home for working on assignments. Even permit text to speech.
No DRM means no hassle for school officials and licensing means no fears that through some slip-up they were violating the law. Sell in bulk and keep the price low enough to discourage cheating at the school level. And offer similar discounts to home schooling associations.
Following those 'keep your customer happy' principles, a publisher should do well in the market, particularly in competing with Amazon. That will especially be true if the later wants to make Kindle the standard and stresses selling to individuals.
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