The Argument for Kindles in Schools

Yesterday I wrote about the Kindle’s tepid reception on the Princeton campus, and suggested that the device might not be ready for educational use. But pilot programs at other schools, involving both Kindles and iPhones, have approached the devices from another angle: cost.

According to MacWorld, school administrators in Oklahoma are excited about saving “up to 50 percent on the cost of textbooks” by using electronic copies–a savings that almost directly benefits students, whether in secondary school or college. MacWorld explains:

“…a complete set of textbooks for several courses in a single curriculum and a Kindle device, sold at perhaps half its retail price, might cost $1,600. That’s compared to $2,000 for the traditional textbooks alone.”

Issues abound: The Kindle’s proprietary document format means textbooks can’t be ported easily, and its browser is inadequate for anything but cursory use. And, as the Daily Princetonian reported yesterday, its note-taking tools aren’t exactly stellar. Another stumbling block: Colleges and universities make a decent profit from textbook sales, and might be loath to give up a cash cow for an e-book device that will likely yield a slimmer margin.

So how does the iPhone factor in? Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone application means that students who already own iPhones or iPod touches can read their materials without purchasing a Kindle–why they would want to read a semester’s coursework on a 3.5-inch screen is another question. The textbook market in the U.S. tops $5.5 billion annually, but some forward-thinking big players are already going e-book. McGraw-Hill, for example, offers 95% of their titles electronically.CD