I Hate to Say It, But Told You So! :-)

Dr. Barrett Mosbacker, PublisherThe title is a bit tongue in cheek but I want to update you on a major trend that I believe will have a significant impact on our schools—the rapid development, growth, and acceptance of e-publishing and e-book readers.  The textbook and library as we know them may disappear or at minimum be radically transformed. 

A few months ago I wrote Welcome to the Library. Say Goodbye to the Books:

Things are changing!  For many years e-books have resided in the back waters of publishing.  Early adopters and gadget freaks have read them but the vast majority of the population were either unaware of them or didn’t care.  The lowly status of the e-book may be about to change—and radically.

Consider the latest developments:

The US Kindle Catalog is has surpassed 400,000 Books.  On Saturday (Dec. 26) Amazon issued a press release announcing that on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books." That's exciting and seemingly newsworthy, although it is natural that this would have happened with hundreds of thousands of new Kindle owners opening their Kindles and finding nothing to read on them but a snappy welcome letter from Jeff Bezos. But that's not to say it is not a big deal.

It is the latest in a steady flow of data points suggesting not only that Amazon is dominating both the hardware and content markets of the e-book sector but also that the e-book revolution itself is moving with stunning alacrity from its inflection point this past September to a tipping point that should occur, at the latest, in 2014.

In a separate article, Mr. Bezos, CEO of Amazon makes this statement (emphasis added):

Our vision for Kindle is to have every book ever printed, in every language, available in 60 seconds from anywhere on earth. We have worked with publishers to get the most popular books you want to read. The Kindle Store currently has more than 390,000 titles and we are adding more every day. Whether you prefer biographies, classics, investment guides, thrillers, or sci-fi, thousands of your favorite books are available. The Kindle Store offers 101 of 112 books currently found on the New York Times® Best Seller list. New York Times Best Sellers and most new releases are $9.99, and you'll find many books for less.

In yet another news story:

Amazon.com said Monday that its Kindle e-reader has become the most gifted item in the company's history…The online retail giant also noted that its customers purchased more Kindle e-books than physical books on Christmas Day -- a first for the company. However, not everyone buying e-books from Amazon this holiday season will be reading them on dedicated Kindle devices.

Amazon has unleashed a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch that users in 60 countries can download from Apple's App Store. Moreover, in November the online retailer released a free Kindle for PC application that enables customers to read Kindle books on notebooks PCs….The new strategy makes sense in light of Forrester's projection that e-book sales will top $500 million in 2010. "This is still small compared to the overall book market, but it's growing quickly," Rotman Epps observed.

The potential for selling content that's never been consumed digitally before is huge and helps to explain why Barnes & Noble recently launched its nook e-reader at the aggressive price of $259, Rotman Epps noted. Barnes & Noble's long-term strategy is "to profit not so much off device sales as off of e-book content sales," she explained.

My Personal Experience

I confess, I am  now the proud owner of a Kindle 2.  My wonderful wife, with wise advice from my daughters, bought me the Kindle 2 Global Edition for Christmas.  Below is a picture of my Kindle on my desk in my study with full bookshelves in the background.

After using it now for several weeks, here is my take on it; it is fantastic and not because I like technology.  Simply put, it is better than a physical book.  Here are some of the reasons why I like the Kindle better than traditional books.

  • I now have access to a million (yes, a million) FREE books, letters, and essays that I can download in 60 seconds.  That alone is enough to justify buying the Kindle. Here are a couple of examples:




  • Virtually all Kindled edition books are cheaper than the printed versions.  For example, I purchased three volumes of a photography book.  I saved more than shown because I purchased each volume separately for only $9.99 each! I paid 29.97 for all three volumes compared to the normal price of $69.99, a savings of $40 or (57%).  Not even counting the free books, the Kindle pays for itself very quickly.


  • My library is full.  I have no more room for books and can’t afford new expensive bookshelves even if I had room.  However, I can store 1,500 books on the Kindle.  When I fill it, I can archive the one’s I’ve read on Amazon and download more books.  I can move books back and forth between the Kindle and Amazon, which means I’ll never be out of room.
  • I can read the books on my iPhone, my laptop, and the Kindle and they all sync.  That means if I read something on my iPhone and later open the same book or article on the Kindle, the Kindle version starts where I left off reading on my iPhone.
  • The books are archived safely on Amazon's servers. I don't have to worry about losing my books if the house burns down!
  • The new e-ink technology makes the Kindle read just like printed material.  It is not backlit there is no eye strain like there is when reading on a computer monitor.  It also means that the battery lasts much longer.
  • I can literally carry my entire library in my hand. I can read any book, essay, newspaper, magazine or blog—any place, any time, any where.  Great for the doctor’s office, on planes, etc.
  • I can highlight and annotate material and access my notes, annotations, clippings on my computer for using in articles, presentations, or for sharing with others.
  • Newspaper, magazines, and blog subscriptions are downloaded to my Kindle at night, while I sleep and before they are online or on newsstands.  When I get up to have my coffee, I can have my devotions and read the newspaper before the start of the workday.
  • I have free broadband 3g coverage via Sprint on the Kindle.  This means I can browse the web on my Kindle.  The browser is not great, but usable.
  • I can have a sample of any book or newspaper sent to my Kindle prior to buying.  This saves me from making expensive purchase mistakes.
  • I can search any book or my entire library on my Kindle by key word(s).
  • I have immediate seamless access to a built in dictionary and Wikipedia.  I can lookup anything without looking my place in the Kindle.
  • I have an always available “built-in” book light in on Kindle case (light and case sold separately).  I don’t have to find the book light.  It is always available with my Kindle.  This is great for reading in bed or on flights when I don’t want to disturb my seat mates.

Those are just a few reasons by I prefer the Kindle.  There are a few downsides:

  • Even though the Kindle can go two weeks without recharging (with wireless off), it still has to be charged.  Print books do not have to be recharged.
  • The Kindle is a computer with software, which means there will be occasional technical issues.  I’ve never had a technical problem with a book.  :-)
  • Although within limits you can share your Kindle account with other Kindle users (meaning you can share books with each other, e.g., family members), it is limited and requires that they have a Kindle. There is no restriction on sharing printed books.
  •   Some will argue that e-readers like Kindles don’t give the pleasure of holding a book in your hand.  Although I understand this concern, I believe it is over-stated.  First, there is nothing particularly pleasurable about holding a paperback.  Obviously, holding a nice leather bound book provides a certain pleasure, but who can afford many leather bound books?  Second, as indicated above, with a good leather cover on the Kindle, it feels like you are holding a good leather bound book.
  • A library in one’s study is beautiful, Kindles are not. I would not want to see a room full of Kindles.  :-) 

What are the implications for our schools?

  • It the trends are any indication, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc., will migrate to electronic versions.  The price point should be lower, saving schools money. 
  • We may finally be able to eliminate the heavy book bags that our students carry.
  • Lockers may no longer be necessary.
  • Curriculum can be updated more frequently, which is particularly important for science textbooks.
  • Students and teachers could have access to textbooks and other readings on cell phones, computers, and Kindles (or other e-book readers) simultaneously.
  • There may be a convergence of this technology into one handheld device.  It is rumored, for example, that Apple is working on an iSlate and Microsoft on a similar device.
  • Students can have access to the world’s best literature and historical documents—for free.
  • We can reduce the size of our libraries making room for more classrooms.

What are your thoughts about these developments?

Given the anticipated explosion in e-books and e-readers, what are your thoughts about the implications for our schools?  Would you promote the use of e-readers and e-textbooks as substitutes for printed textbooks and the traditional school library?  Do you see any intrinsic advantage or disadvantage to the move to electronic reading and publishing?