Reed College implemented a Kindle DX (larger than the regular Kindle) pilot back in 2008 to assess its potential as a textbook replacement. From the report that came out, it was a failure. The report was written in 2009. The last sentence still opens the door to the future of eReaders.
In closing, we may note that while students and faculty in Reed’s Kindle study were unanimous
in reporting that the Kindle DX –– in its current incarnation –– was unable to meet their
academic needs, many felt that once technical and other issues have been addressed, eReaders
will play a significant, possibly a transformative, role in higher education.
Since then, the Kindle has taken a large chunk of the consumer ebook market, and people are warming up quickly to the idea of going paperless. The Kindle app for computers and smartphones probably performs better than the Kindle itself at annotating and highlighting, giving students more flexibility when using another device than the Kindle. Amazon will need to make the Kindle sexier in order to get any chunk of the electronic textbook market, in my opinion, especially on the hardware side.
It seems increasingly likely that the consumer cell phone model will prevail, as students arrive on campus equipped with tablets and eReaders from a variety of manufacturers. For the moment, the iPad dominates the tablet market, but the new wave of Android-based tablets seems likely to provide an appealing alternative that will result in the coexistence of at least two competing tablet operating systems.
The same report dresses a bad vision of the publishers and content, referring to the situation as the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
Instead of offering significant cost savings to students, textbook publishers seem to be hoping to
add value to their electronic products by taking advantage of the interactive capabilities of
computer and tablet interfaces. Several companies are partnering with textbook publishers to
offer enhanced iPad versions of textbooks that include features such as shared notes and
highlights, embedded video, and self-correcting quizzes.
Given the likelihood that both tablet and eReader technology will proliferate substantially, it is unfortunate that so little progress has been made toward resolving the concerns about digital rights management (DRM) and eBook file format standards that we raised a year ago. With the appearance of the iPad, the ePub format has made some progress towards becoming an eBook standard, but Amazon products, including dedicated eReaders and the Kindle applications for computers and mobile devices, do not support this format. Since every eBook store has its own version of ePub DRM, one needs a different app (or device) to read each book.
In my opinion, until standards emerge and content is published following the same economic principles as consumer books, chances are that electronic textbooks will be held back from wider adoption despite the enthusiasm surrounding eReaders.