There’s no doubt that ebooks are taking market share from regular books, and the marketplace is getting very crowded with companies attempting to grab a slice of the action. e-Textbooks, on the other hand, have been a much tougher sell. The Kindle famously flamed out in various university trials, and it’s too early to tell if the iPad will be a success for studying.
Still, it hasn’t stopped several companies from rolling out strategies to break into the textbook market. B&N has nookStudy, Macmillan has DynamicBooks, and now Engadget is reporting that Entourage (of the infamous dual-screened ebook reader) has struck a deal to bring books from Cengage Learning into the Entourage Edge eBookstore. The big question is whether any of these contenders will succeed.
nookSTUDY and DynamicBooks both rely on the presence of a full computer. As of now, there’s no concrete plans to bring either one to mobile devices, so their usefulness as portable resources is limited to laptop and netbook use. While both solutions bring a great deal beyond a dead-tree textbook and a photocopied syllabus, they are limited by schools and individual professors taking full advantage of the multimedia and interactive features. In my view, whoever gets to market with an iPhone/iPad version first is likely to have the best chance of capturing marketshare, but it all hinges on making the workflow as easy as pen, paper, textbook and highlighter!
It seems like the Entourage Edge should be a home run for academic environments. The eInk screen allows for long sessions of reading without eyestrain, and the tablet side makes it easy to annotate, etc. Of course, the reality is that the whole kit is very expensive, almost the price of an iPad, and it’s running a 1.x version of Android when the developer market is rushing towards 2.1 and 2.2. Yes, the new Cengage deal is going to help them immensely, but pricing and hardware issues are big hurdles to overcome.
And all these digital textbook ideas have to beat the existing low-price leader in the textbook world-used books. When you can head to your local college bookstore and buy and sell your old textbooks at a fraction of the cost of a new one, a non-resalable copy needs to really be worth the money. It seems like education is the perfect market for ebooks, but with pricing and hardware limitations, this may end up taking longer to develop than the commercial ebook market. Quite a few companies are rushing in just in case…but who’s going to be using them this fall?
It’s been a while since I was in school, so if you are a current student, please share your thoughts on e-textbooks below, or email them to carly (at) geardiary (dot) com. Specifically, I’m curious if a) you’ve used or your school plans to use electronic materials instead of printed books, b) you’ve used or plan to use an iPad/Kindle/other tablet device for school, and c) if being able to resell a textbook makes a difference to you when you purchase it. If enough people can share their experiences, I will post them next week. It doesn’t matter how many e-textbooks are available if no one is using them, and that’s what I am curious to learn!