Textbooks Gear Up for Digitization

Seven campus retailers in the US are preparing to test digital kiosks in their stores. Initially, the kiosks will be set up to burn DVDs with course content on them but as Ars Technica points out:

This is another sign that the textbook industry is gearing up to deal with the inevitable digitalization of its content (apparently, they’ve learned their lesson from the music industry, which was caught flat-footed by the transition). The effort by the bookstores is obviously a matter of self-preservation. Clearly, they would fear digital distribution putting them in competition with a device like the Kindle, which could eliminate the chaos and lines involved in start-of-the-semester book shopping; even worse would be a situation where students could go directly to the publishers for their digital needs. Although a digital kiosk might cut down on the hassle of trying to find the right organic chemistry text in the science section, it clearly won’t cut down on the waiting-in-line unpleasantries.

Does this new strategy take into account the reasons why digital consumes analog marketshare? Do we buy digital because it’s:

  1. Easy: This might make it easier to find the new Organic Chemistry textbook but only if you have to go to the bookstore in person. The idea behind digital distribution isyou don’t.
  2. Cheaper (or free): Digital textbooks (assuming that’s what these kiosks might produce one day) are going to face the added challenge of having to price out both new and used books. And then there’s P2P jumping into the mix.
  3. Most current: Definitely. It’d be great to know you’re getting the right edition right away.
  4. Accessible: Nope. See one.

This experiment bears watching but it’s not clear to me yet what an in-store kiosk can offer that at home downloading can’t. And with transfer speed and memory increasing all the time, even larger files like movies don’t require an external device like a DVD to transfer them…

Read the whole article at Ars Technica.