Kindle Textbooks

Kindle TextbooksKindle Textbooks could be huge. That’s saying a lot for me since I’m not a big fan of the Kindle. It’s not that the device doesn’t look interesting or perform half-way well. I simply believe reading is active rather than passive and there is no motivating agent of change to adopt a new reading platform. So, I’m not nearly as bullish on future Kindle sales, despite the ‘sold out’ buzz and fawning praise from gadgeteers.

Yet, the textbook niche seems ripe for the Kindle. Textbooks are expensive, heavy, frequently updated, largely disposable and reach a demographic eager to adopt new technology.

The US Department of Education (DOE) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) have researched the rising cost of textbooks in the last ten years. Following are a few excerpts from the DOE Koch Report:

Between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186 percent in the United States, or slightly more than six percent per year (GAO, 2005). Meanwhile, other prices rose only about three percent per year (GAO, 2005).

CALPIRG (2005) found that students at California public universities spent an average of $898 on textbooks in the 2004-2005 academic year. If textbook prices have continued to rise at six percent per year, then this expenditure will rise to $1,009 in the 2006-2007 academic year and constitute 6.1 percent of the estimated annual cost of education for a resident student at a four-year public university (College Board, 2005).

There is a lot of money to be made in textbooks – publishers, college bookstores, used booksellers. In fact, the secondary market in textbooks is perhaps as important to the book vertical as the holiday season. Textbooks provide an ever renewing source of customers who are essentially forced to buy textbooks at high price points.

The Kindle would disrupt this ecosystem which may be why Amazon hasn’t (yet) tapped the textbook potential.

Who would win? Publishers could be persuaded to lower prices for digital distribution based on lower production costs. In addition, if DRM can be attached, the resale capability of textbooks is severely reduced. They likely lock in higher margins, even while reducing the cost of textbooks. The latter means students win and, of course, Amazon wins.

Who loses? Certainly the secondary market for used textbooks. The college bookstores also lose since they’re no longer in the distribution chain, ceding this to Amazon. Folks like Barnes & Noble (who run many college bookstores) and Follett would not be pleased.

Textbooks Too HeavyAside from the economic issues, the weight of textbooks has been a growing concern for both parents and educators. Kindle textbooks would solve the weight issue and would certainly appeal to those concerned with the environment.

However, it could potentially expand the disparity in education via the digital divide. Here’s where Kindle contracts with school systems or grants from non-profits could help distribute the Kindle to all economic classes.

Finally, the market is perfect. They’re young, not reading for pleasure and have no real necessity to hang onto a particular textbook. It’s practical and functional. Yet, a certain percentage will begin to view the Kindle as the preferred reading platform and likely use it for more than textbooks. Amazon could actually create the market I currently don’t see through wide adoption of Kindle textbooks.

The Kindle already provides some features that would benefit students:

… you can add annotations to text, just like you might write in the margins of a book. And because it is digital, you can edit, delete, and export your notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use.

There’s already a drum beat of folks advocating for Kindle textbooks, including here, here and even on Amazon. Me? I still don’t have one and don’t really want one either.

I still think wide Kindle adoption is a long-shot but the odds would get better if Amazon launched a highly focused Kindle textbook initiative.

20 thoughts on “Kindle Textbooks

  1. Pingback: Kindle Aims for Every Book Ever In Print | Used Books Blog

  2. As a recent undergraduate and current graduate student, this is outstanding! I have been waiting for the digital textbook, whether downloaded to the laptop/computer or now, downloaded to a device like the Kindle, to take flight.

    Students spend so much money on hard copy textbooks and reading materials, and often have to carry them all around which is not convenient or easy to do. Digital textbooks on the Kindle will make it so quick and easy for students to access any of their books or other resources whenever and wherever they need them.

    I, myself, am a Kindle champion, and all in all, while $359 for this device plus the cost of the books etc. seems high, you are getting a great deal of value out of it. I can’t wait for the textbooks to be offered for my courses at graduate school.

    I recommend this to anyone and everyone, but especially for students considering this good news!

    For more info on the Kindle, visit!

  3. Pingback: Kindle hacks, freebies and shortcuts: 100 + useful links « Kindles for kids: “Any Book, Any Kid, Any Time”

  4. re the paragraph in the above post:
    “However, it could potentially expand the disparity in education via the digital divide. Here’s where Kindle contracts with school systems or grants from non-profits could help distribute the Kindle to all economic classes.”

    This is the mission that Connect2Books was established to address. Think of it as a literacy oriented One Laptop Per Child campaign for low income middle and high school students. See the post at :
    Gordon Rogers

  5. Pingback: Kindle 2.0 out in October? | Used Books Blog

  6. I would not want to replace the books I read for leisure with Kindle. However, as a college student I would buy one in a second to replace my textbooks! My god. if the ink moves to form the words imagine what they could do with math books! Add MP3 tech to the thing and they could give an optional mini math tutor! As for the book store, they could sell the Kindle along with all the other things they have there. They could have a resale market of the kindles themselves. I LOVE this idea…

  7. Here’s another situation where an innovation (Kindle) is an absolutely perfect solution for a big problem (high cost and weight of text books)
    - yet the imbedded commercial interests won’t make any money from it -
    therefore adoption of the innovation is stymied.

    It’s very frustrating – and stupid.

    Obviously, the market for Kindle textbooks is HUGE.
    If an innovative publisher started offering high incentives to textbook authors to publish their textbooks in a Kindle format,
    they would get a headstart on this explosive market, and make a fortune.
    A Win-Win-Win for the publishers, authors and students.

    This would bypass the current archaic text-book publishing/sales industry… and allow students the world over to finally enter the 21st century of education.

  8. I suggest everyone that agrees with this (Kindle Textbooks) go to and flood them with requests to make textbooks available.

  9. I’m pretty sure I read that several large textbook publishers are on board. The Kindle DX has the potential to be huge success with students.

    I think there are two big challenges for Jeff Bezos regarding the academic market. First, the price of the wide-format kindle is a bit steep. Add to the fact that many people still haven’t personally used a kindle and you can understand why many will shy away from it. Amazon should consider offering education discounts if they really want Kindles to be the popular choice on campus.

    I write regularly about the Kindle, so if anyone wants more to read, visit me at

  10. Kindle Reader said: “the price of the wide-format kindle is a bit steep.”

    Competing E-Reader manufacturers could dominate the market if they
    offered book subscription services. For example, a person signs a two-year subscription to download a minimum number of books from Barnes & Noble, they get an eReader (of some sort) for $39.

    Something like cell phone contracts and cheap cell phones.

  11. I don’t have a Kindle, so I’m not sure about this….all electronics go on the fritz on occasion. With a text book I don’t have to worry about not being able to access my information, unless perhaps my dog gets the book. What chances are there for the kindle to freeze up or lose my book or just die on me? Are my professors going to buy that?

  12. Amazon currently has a “textbook” section for Kindle, but it’s populated by novels and mass market nonfiction, not textbooks. This looks bad. Textbooks are the perfect use for Kindle.

    E-readers using phones are not as good an experience, and I would never choose to study that way. Kindle’s actually a good reading experience. Amazon and textbook publishers need to get on that.

    As for Lori’s concern — a sudden Kindle malfunction would be equivalent to losing your textbook — highly unlikely, but something to deal with if it takes place.

  13. I really cannot see a downside to using the kindle for textbooks. Not only would it help prevent a generation of hunchbacks -my backpack ways over 30 pounds with 1/2 my books in it, not including notebooks and all my other stuff- but also its a lot cheaper than buying textbooks. I spend 500-600 dollars every year buying textbooks for school, the kindle itself is about 300 I think, and the kindle DX is around 500, it just seems all around… better. Plus, you only have to buy the kindle once, not like replacing all your books every year, and having a huge pile of books collecting dust in your closet.

  14. Please make textbooks available for download to the Kindle!!! I dread packing my textbooks up and down the hill @ WKU!! I mean it is MURDER on my back!! And the expense of textbooks is overwhelming to a college students pocket!! Sorry it would upset the profit margins of bookstores but frankly it is a ripoff to pay 300.00 for a text book at the beginning of the semester and get 30.00 for it on buy back a couple of months later!!

  15. Looks like this conversation has dwindled down a bit, but *my oh my* how the world of eReaders has changed over the last few months! This post was centered on the Kindle mostly because it was the only one of it’s kind (with few exceptions). There’s no doubt it was the most popular.

    There are lots of new eReaders on the market now, but I’m not hearing much about the “textbook on an eReader” debate any more. Would the nook or iPad be just as suitable?

    I and a couple of friends are avid eReader users and write about them quite frequently at Actually, we just had to move to that domain, so your visit is much appreciated. Feel free to carry the topic over or just see what’s been going on with eReaders lately.

  16. I know the original post is a bit old, but the introduction of the iPad brings this topic back to life. Although the iPad is not totally ideal for reading a textbook (as compared to say the Kindle DX platform), the sheer number of iPads that will be sold has opened up an entirely new market for Kindle textbooks. It will be interesting to see whether college students begin buying e-textbooks. Also, how quickly will Apple compete with amazon on book titles?

  17. I love the idea of a Kindle and I’m getting one for pleasure reading because I love reading.. But I’m also a college student and have lost a lot of money on textbooks. If Kindle, or any eReader for that matter, were to have textbooks available I would be so happy. I’m sure my friends would use it to, I know its not just me. I agree that we should flood the Kindle Support and ask for textbooks! :)

  18. My daughter is in 6th grade and I’m amazed at the weight these kids carry on their backs in Middle School. She often asks me to carry her pack at the end of the day and … I’m too old for this! She is very excited by the idea of putting her textbooks on Kindle. We don’t have one yet, but I’d buy one in a heartbeat if I knew she could “lug” this light thing around. I do believe she would take it with her everywhere; therefore, no excuses about leaving her book at school!

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