As someone who is a little less than three years out of grad school – and after doing 20 years of school straight – I still like to look at how technology can affect education. (It might also help that I am employed by my alma mater.) I’ve been thinking a lot about the ebook market lately and how it can change the way students learn – or at least how they buy textbooks.
Ebooks and self-publishing are making it easier than ever to get information out there very affordably, for both the publisher and the customer. Kindles and iPads alike are great tools for students, and Apple even released a tool called iBooks Author, which aims to make it easier to produce interactive textbooks for the iPad. However, I think the Kindle Fire (and entire Kindle family) is better poised to take over the e-textbook market.
I know, I know. This is a bold statement, especially coming from a man who just recently got a new iPad from his job. But I recently read Textbooks Don’t Need To Fear iPad .. Yet, which helped reinforce my belief.
So what made me come to the conclusion that the Kindle Fire and other Kindles are better for textbook replacement than the iPad? A few reasons; I’ll start with the most obvious.
The Price Difference
You will pay at least $500 for a new iPad, and that’s assuming you get the lowest priced Wifi one. You could spend over $800 if you want to the the 4G 64GB version. Compare that to the Kindle Fire, which only costs $199, and you have a no-brainer on which device is easier to afford. The Kindle Fire offers comparable functionality to the iPad at 60% of the price; this means that if you want Dropbox, document editing, and note taking, the Kindle Fire is there for you.
Maybe you don’t want all of that functionality on a device you plan to use primarily for textbooks. To be honest, I’ve tried taking notes on the iPad 1, the Galaxy Tab, and the new iPad and I really can’t get used to it; I still prefer a handy-dandy notebook. All that means is that you can save a bit more money and space by purchasing the Kindle, which is $79, or the Kindle Touch, which is $99. That’s at least 80% less than the cost of the iPad. Of course, this isn’t the only reason why Amazon and the Kindle will win the battle for online textbook supremacy.
A Much Bigger Selection of Textbooks
As I mentioned earlier, I recently got the new iPad. And since I want to look at iBooks Author, I checked out the offerings in the iBooks store and I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw regarding textbooks. This could be because of the whole EULA fiasco (note: Apple later fixed it), or the fact that you still don’t really have portable content when using iBooks Author. That is, you will essentially have to create two versions of your book: one for iBooks Author and one for everything else.
The Kindle Fire and Kindle family do not have this problem. For one thing, Amazon has a selection of over a million books to choose from in the Kindle store, lots of deals, and tons of free books. If you’re a book publisher or author, you can take your book in one of serveral formats and put it on the Kindle in several differnt ways using Kindle Direct Publishing. In my opinion this is a much more open, easier process. Admittedly you lose some of the ‘interactivity’ that Apple touts in iBooks, but you still have portable content.
This may be the best part: You buy the book once and can view it on any device that supports the Kindle software. That means the Kindle devices themselves, as well as PCs, Macs, iOS, Android, and the browser. You aren’t shackled to one platform like you are with iBooks. You don’t even need to buy a device to use Kindle books – view them right on your laptop or smartphone.
iBooks and iBooks Author are definitely cool thoughts. I plan on checking out the process in full in a few weeks as I’m looking to self-publish. However, I don’t think that they will revolutionize textbooks the way Apple would like them to. Amazon, with its huge selection, super afforable Android-based device, and open process reminiscent of Google and Android, is in a much better position to grab the e-textbook market and hold onto it. As tablets and portable reading devices become more ubiquitous, it will be very interesting to see how this plays out!