More Kindle: This Time, Textbooks

After an astute tip from one of our Twitter friends (thanks, @Keith_Shay), my last post on the likely soon-to-be-released Kindle didn’t really take everything into account. Yes, the new screen on the Kindle is well-suited for newspapers and it’s certainly the case that newspapers like the NY Times see it as a new frontier to re-capture hearts and minds (or at least eyeballs).

However, as many more astute than me have realized, Amazon’s press conference is being held at a university (Pace University)so looks like textbooks are the big fish frying. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Amazon has worked out a deal with several textbook publishers to make their materials available for the device, Mr. Gonick added. The new device will also feature a more fully functional Web browser, he said. The Kindle’s current model, which debuted in February, includes a Web browser that is classified as “experimental.”

Five other universities are involved in the Kindle project, according to people briefed on the matter. They are Pace, Princeton, Reed, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State.

Concerns are floating around regarding the future of the used textbook market. Depending on price, the new Amazon offerings could undercut any motivation that students currently have to buy hardcopies and resell them through university bookstores.

The other big issue is market dominance. If some of these other e-readers (Plastic Logic, Sony, anyone!) don’t start coming through with something that can challenge the Kindle large edition, we’re looking at one behemoth without a lot of checks and balances in place. Do we want all the works studied at our university to come from just one retailer channel? Anyone else feel a bit unsettled by that?

The saving grace? Student behaviour. From Inside Higher Ed:

Student Monitor reports that “the share of students who purchase most of their textbooks from their on-campus bookstore continues to trend down: fewer than six in ten students (57 percent) purchased most of their textbooks at their on campus book store,” compared to 64 percent in fall 2006 and down from 72 percent in fall 2005.

Not great news for campus retailers but at least it suggests the possibility of competitiveness. Will students stand for just one option? Or will this existing behaviour put pressure on Amazon to open up the Kindle to all EPUB files and lift DRM? It’s still early days but it’s likely that converging forces are at work which will shift the campus market.