November 28, 2008

Your text books on your Kindle - an economic analysis

Jason Perlow over at ZDNet Blogs takes a closer look at some of the economics of owning a Kindle eBook reader and buying electronic, not paper books.

He decides to take a look at two markets, or use cases: higher education and consumers.
I say "use case", because some students at higher education will be consumers of other types of content also, and consumers may do study on their eBook reading devices.

He (rightly I think for this exercise) pretty much limits himself to the economics, and the other advantages (less weight, convenience etc) are left out of the equation. It's an economic analysis.

There's also the problem that most of the text books wanted by higher education students are probably not available in Kindle format at the time of writing. He limits it to legal purchases of content.

His (reasonable) summary for one scenario is that the Kindle scenario could save a student $132.00 per semester, which over 8 semesters amounts to $1056 minus the cost of the device to leave a total saving of $700. Alternatively, the break-even time for "investing" in a Kindle is only 3 semesters, then it's all beer-money with the savings.

So, now I see the need for some enterprising individual to index all the text books needed for each degree or course imparted, and checking that all of the text books required are available in Kindle format -> a "Kindle Textbook Checklist". Sounds like a good mash-up of University web-sites and Amazon Kindle Store project to me! Anyone interested?
You can then offer to certify a given study course as "100% eBook compatible".

Not counting the re-sale of the paper books after using them, and recuperating some (he estimates half) of their value is a major problem with the analysis that makes it more favorable to the Kindle.

We need some real (US for now, due to Kindle availability) students to come in with their perspective and set us all straight.

This analysis also raises an irksome point among eBook purchasers. What about the right of first (re-)sale for eBooks? If a student could sell on those "used" eBooks like they could the paper books, that would change the result somewhat.

Questions remain for me about how content production and sale for education will change when good reading (and maybe writing/annotating) devices become available at the "right price" (anyone know what that is?) for students. We may well see collaborative authoring of free texts, or professors or institutions putting their content in the open for free. One example of that is MIT's open course-ware initiative. THAT would change the economics a bit!

Will text book editors, educational institutions and resellers ever drop prices significantly on this type of content and dynamite it all, making the economics of buying your text books in eBook format a wash and opening up the other advantages of eBooks for this application to all?

P.S. Why do people insist on using the word "literally" when it's clearly not literal? The Kindle cannot literally be "A closed book". One, because it's not a book, it's an eBook reading device. Two, because it has no way of being closed. It is a closed book, figuratively.

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