Thursday, May 07, 2009

Big Kindle Goes to School (Shrug)

The launch of Big Kindle looks like another round in the continuing Apple vs Amazon cage fight. Amazon looks to be on the defensive as they rush out a larger version of the Kindle for the education market in advance of Apple's proposed Tablet PC. Jobs may think that people don't read but he does know that children are educated, and education is an arena Apple has traditionally done well in. The developing convergence of education and book e-commerce is what Amazon may see as a threat: A captured market of educational materials that, should Apple enter with a tablet PC type device, Amazon could be locked out of.

For Amazon however, Big Kindle will still be giggled over by those in Cupertino. Will the Apple tablet be any better? It is certain to have a far better form factor. Whether it will be expressly suited to delivering educational content in a dynamic and forward thinking manner remains to be seen. That is certainly not within the capabilities of Big Kindle.

Several universities participated in the launch of Big Kindle and the hype around the launch hid a troubling question; namely, why these schools were in-bed with the retailer at all? On a list serve I questioned,
Don't the participating universities appear to be endorsing a hardware platform (not to mention a specific retail channel). You could argue (possibly strongly) that allowing the bookstore to be managed by B&N or Follett or even the adoption of college textbooks themselves to be little different; however, doesn’t the changed paradigm suggest an opportunity to operate on a more open field of play or is this more of the same leading to more student frustration, higher prices and deadened innovation in education?
In other words, why would the universities want to continue the (essentially) old way of doing business when most observers believe we are on the cusp of a renaissance in educational learning. The Kindle doesn't do multimedia, it doesn't do color and most importantly it doesn't do networking because the Kindle is a closed system. This is a short sighted collaboration between schools and Amazon that doesn't really suggest any major change.

As I thought about the Big Kindle development it struck me that there could still be a more interesting development. Content media companies suddenly developing a hardware delivery platform are growing like weeds from NewsCorp to Hearst, and there could be an opportunity for collaboration between the news/magazine world and education. What if CourseSmart or Safari joined one of these efforts? That would be a far more interesting and potentially game changing development than selling text book content on a Big Kindle. By definition, the hardware to support a digital magazine will be capable of all the aspects necessary in delivering a changed educational experience.

Will that happen? As it turns out some of the partners involved in CourseSmart are also participating in the Big Kindle roll out; but, what is CourseSmart if it isn't a new way to deliver educational materials to learners? That doesn't seem to be what students will be getting with Big Kindle. There may be all kinds of reasons why CourseSmart (or even an publisher themselves) won't be launching a device: The predominant reason may be the amount of print revenue tied to Amazon, and therefore from my perspective Big Kindle and education is more about marketing hype than anything fundamental. We await more developments with keen interest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is still the issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and all the hype/scare with piracy. If someone breaks the code once and networking is allowed on the device, then this file could be distributed and copied quite easily to any other device out there, be it a computer, tablet, Iphone or Kindle.

I think that this article speaks the truth; the educational experience needs a shift in its paradigm. And it is great to throw out all these ideas of networking and multimedia but the publishing companies will never go for it. There are 3-4 main publishers (depending on who you talk to) that have a monopoly on the market; so why would they take such a risk?