The official debut of the Amazon Kindle DX, a larger version of its e-reader tailored for textbooks and newspapers, was this week's worst kept secret in the technology industry. The 9.7-inch-screen device, which will cost $489, is also enabled for 3G wireless access and can hold approximately 3,500 books.
Along with the debut of the Kindle DX, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that three of the top five textbook publishers-Cengage Learning, Pearson and Wiley-and more than 75 university press publishers would be making their products available to the Kindle Store starting in autumn 2009. In addition, five universities, including Yale and Princeton, will test-drive the Kindle DX this fall on their campuses.
Until the trials in the fall, it remains unclear if students will take to the format, and how it will impact the used textbook market that so many students rely on. Frank Lyman, executive vice president of CourseSmart, an e-textbook company founded and supported by five higher education textbook publishers, said students don't need a nearly $500 device when they can download e-books onto devices they already have-their notebooks.
He says college students at more than 5,600 higher education institutions across the country are currently using e-textbooks, with growth being driven largely by affordability. CourseSmart claims it offers more than 60 percent of all core higher education textbooks in e-textbook format at a cost of 50 percent less than a traditional textbook.
"I'm pretty sure devices will play well in the market because of the portability factor," he said. "But to the extent that devices are going to be successful, students are going to have to recognize an intrinsic value. It's going to have to be an economic issue for students to adopt it.
According to data compiled by industry analysts at R.R. Bowker's PubTrack business intelligence division, more than one-third of the most popular college textbook titles (those expected to sell at least 200 copies nationwide this fall) are now available in e-book form from CourseSmart.
"If people are reading a lot of material sequentially, as [E Ink] technology progresses more and more, people will want to use a device like the Kindle," Lyman said. "Students aren't monolithic. Some of them want a book, but there is a growing number of students out there that are used to learning online."
However, as Bezos pointed out during the press conference, many people dislike or have difficulty reading print on a conventional computer screen. The Kindle's display runs on E Ink technology, a type of electronic paper manufactured by E Ink. "Paperless society never came; we print more paper now than we ever did before," Bezos said at the beginning of his presentation. "Why do we print so much? Because computer displays are a worse display device than paper."
Along with the college invasion and announcement of a Kindle application for the hip, popular Apple iPhone, Amazon may reap a benefit beyond increased sales-widening the Kindle's appeal in key demographics.
Pundits have also suggested that a wider screen could open the door for ads being displayed on the Kindle, especially in a newspaper context. Such a move would open up an additional revenue stream for the company.
According to an (admittedly informal) study carried out on the blog Kindle Culture, author Stephen Peters found older adults (54 and older) and adults ages 35-54 make up the vast majority of Kindle owners. Younger adults, ages 18-34, make up just 22 percent of Kindle owners.
"I think this is a pretty exciting development for e-books," Lyman said. "Students are saying, -Everything else in my life is digital, why aren't my textbooks digital?'"
Editor's Note: This article has been updated with information about the Kindle's ad display possibilities.