New Electronic Textbook Reader Could Lighten Backpacks

By Staff
May 6, 2009

Amazon is expected to launch a new version of its Kindle e-book reader today geared for academic textbook publishers, and college and university officials will be helping to test the new device on campuses.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the new Kindle will have a larger screen, allowing textbook publishers to better display the charts and graphs that don't appear well on the current device, which measures just six inches diagonally. Students at six universities-including Case Western, Pace and Princeton --will receive the new Kindles with several textbooks already installed, and schools will compare students who use the device with those who use traditional textbooks.

But college students may not be attracted to the new Kindle. Business Week points out that the device's size is significant: It needs to be large enough to view graphs easily, but small enough to carry around.

Moreover, even though the Kindle would ultimately address efforts to make college textbooks more affordable, experts note that students may still be reluctant to spend the nearly $500 that the device costs.

"With a user base that already has a laptop and a mobile phone, asking Mom and Dad to shell out a few hundred extra dollars is a hurdle," noted Mike McGuire, a media analyst quoted in Business Week.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also expresses skepticism about whether the new Kindle will be popular, saying that students at Northwest Missouri State University were not satisfied with Sony's e-book reader when school officials tested the gadget last year. They found it too difficult to flip pages and take notes on the reader, and consequently the school decided to deliver e-books to laptops instead.

"It didn't lend itself to the way students actually study," said Paul Klute, who runs the institution's e-textbook project. "The students skip around, they look for key words, they look for pictures or charts or graphs. . . . They wanted to be able to jump to page 29 without having to push a button 29 times."

But supporters argue that more students and professors would use the product if they better understood the latest features, such as easy searching and the ability to share notes with friends online. And many believe that Amazon's marketing power may very well attract more students to electronic textbooks and ultimately revolutionize the college textbook market.

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