Jag Venugopal's Blog

June 11, 2010

Kindle and the College Crowd

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 4:00 pm

Businessweek is reporting that the Kindle DX flopped in a classroom trial with college students.  I don’t think that it needed a trial to know that the product would not work in a college setting. A reasonably intelligent marketing manager should have figured it out on his own.

The current Kindle variations, as well as the Sony readers, and numerous me-too clones are all based on a technology called e-Ink. This technology produces monochrome images on a whitish grey background. The ink is formed by aligning thousands of tiny particles through an electrostatic charge.

The advantage of such e-Ink screens is that they are easy on the eyes, and are very power-efficient. There are two major disadvantages: page refreshes take very long, and there is no color yet. Both these drawbacks make it a no-no for textbook use. Students need to flip pages back and forth rapidly when they are reading or reviewing a textbook. Additionally, many textbooks benefit from color presentation (charts, graphs, etc).

A better candidate for replacing paper textbooks is the Apple iPad. Battery life is excellent for an LCD based device. The device is eminently portable. The screen is clear and legible, and in beautiful color. Page flips are fast, and so is search. Students will benefit from carrying around one light-weight device, instead of a number of heavy books. The runaway costs of textbooks can be checked by obviating the need to print and transport large full-color tomes. While the iPad is pricey, student textbooks are not exactly cheap either. Most run between $100-$200. About the only change that needs to be made is to ruggedize the device, so it can last at least two years out of a four-year program.

Publishers will likely love it because it will prevent used-textbook resale. Freed from the constraints of the paper world, they can customize content to the needs of each individual class (e.g. mixing and matching chapters, video, Internet links). And, they can sell their textbooks as either rentals or an outright sale.

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