Digitalized textbooks are one thing, but …

book_ipodI’ve always said I would love to have digital textbooks, reasons being that I would greatly appreciate the flexibility to read on either my computer or iPod Touch or to print pages I need in hard copy. Annotating wouldn’t be a problem for me because I rarely find myself writing in books anyway. When reading textbooks, I usually find myself wishing I could just do a ctrl+F, and I would really appreciate not having to lug heavy books around. Most importantly, cheaper books are always a plus for me, and a win for people without access to libraries who want access to more cheap reading material.

Today I found out that a couple of the books I need for classes this semester are available as Kindle downloads. I don’t own a Kindle, but I have the Amazon.com app for my iPod Touch that would let me read Kindle downloads. However, I decided not to go with the Kindle downloads. Here’s how my options stack up for Kindle download vs. actual books:

Flexibility:
I would normally appreciate a digital textbook for the flexibility of reading it on more than one device. As far as I can tell with the Kindle, its downloads are only readable on the Kindle or iPod Touch. The iPod is great for reading between classes and on the go, but to just sit and read, I would want to use my computer, for sure. The book wins this battle.

Searchability: The download wins this round. I’ll buy way more books when they figure out how to add control and F keys to them.

Price: For this semester, I looked at two books available as digital downloads. One was a paperback book with a $16 list price, $11 Amazon price, and a $9.99 Kindle price. Not much savings there. The difference in prices on the larger textbook was greater, but not particularly significant: Amazon shows a $153 list price, a $120 Amazon price, and a $99 Kindle price. The download sounds like a good deal there, but these prices are only for new copies. Used copies sold in the Amazon marketplace for this book started at $65. For the books I need, at least, Kindle downloads offered no significant price savings.

Portability: Considering one of the books I looked at was a substantial text book, I will give the win to the download, but only by a bit. I look forward to the day when I will only have to bring one device with me to hold my textbooks, as opposed to the armfuls one can find herself hauling when a research paper is in the works.

Annotation: Despite the fact that I rarely annotate books (I usually take notes separately with reference to page numbers if I must), the win still goes to the books here. Kindle downloads can be annotated using an actual Kindle device, but not through the iPhone app (the app can be used to read existing notes, though).

Testability: In my computer science department, the majority of tests are open book/open note. Not only would I not be able to use an electronic device to view the book, but with Kindle downloads I wouldn’t even be able to print out crucial pages to bring to the test. The win clearly goes to non-electronic books.

I think Amazon is missing an obvious market: computer users. If I were only able to read Kindle downloads on my computer, that would solve the flexibility problem, and would ideally solve the annotation problem. Until I can purchase my textbooks as PDFs that I can annotate and use with all my devices, I think I’ll just have to stick to good old fashioned paper and ink.

  • http://www.polaroiddigitalphotoframe.com E. Harris

    I don’t think I will ever own another book, the Kindle is that good.

    I would like it if the Kindle could have a ( refer a Friend ) network. you could have your friends that read the same type of book as you read and you could simply send a message from the Kindle directly to them on their Kindle with a sample of the book. You could offer some sort of discount or reward points if that person buys the referred book. You could use your discounts or points to purchase new books on the Kindle.

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  • Chris

    My problem with the kindle and DRM (Digital Restrictions Management per Richard Stallman vocabulary) is that I don’t own my books. I have paper books older than me. I kept most of my undergrad computer science and math books. They represent a substantial investment. The Microsoft Zune and other companies show that occasionally a manufacturer decides they don’t want to support a device anymore, and then they turn off the DRM servers.

    What if you decide that the Kindle has a small selection so you want a Nook instead? Now you have to buy all your books all over again. Or what if amazon goes out of business, etc… You say it can’t happen but look at Enron/Worldcomm/etc… they were big companies and they went out of business… I think without amazon’s servers you can’t move the books to other kindles and you can’t put new books on your kindle.

    I want a device where my content is mine. I can move my books to the nook, kindle, iPad, sony reader, or whatever I want. And if I have 4 devices I can put my book on all 4 devices. And where I can keep the content for 20/30/40 or however many years I have left on this earth. Currently the closest thing is the ePub format which the Kindle doesn’t support. That has DRM but supposedly you can move books between the different devices that support ePub DRM.