A media sector just waiting for disruption

Amazon's KindleThe Princeton Press announced this week that it would be offering hundreds of its textbooks via Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader for students who’d rather buy electronic books than carry around the big printed versions. Yale University Press and Oxford University Press already have a similar presence for students. The University of California Press recently had about 40 of its volumes placed on Kindle and is ramping up.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed, image-heavy textbooks aren’t conducive to the Kindle, but everything else is moving in that direction.

The university presses participating in Kindle were reluctant to describe the specific financial arrangements they have with Amazon (which also declined to discuss them), but said that they were revenue-sharing deals, and that preparing the books for release on Kindle was not particularly burdensome or expensive.

But here’s the mystery: the Kindle editions don’t come much cheaper than the always expensive standard college texts. Most of the electronic offerings run just a few bucks less than their printed counterparts.

This is yet another example of a traditional form of media trying to hang onto a revenue stream that cannot be justified by the technology that provides it in a different format. The cost of making a printed book is significant. It costs pennies (if anything) to duplicate a digital file, but the textbook industry is enormous (and authors of textbooks can make a pretty penny). It won’t separate itself from all that money easily.

But this is exactly the kind of scenario that produces disruptions, and it should be fun to watch.


  1. If the universities jump on board with this to beef their bottom lines, then expect disruptions for backpack manufacturers and chiropractors. 😉

  2. The professors also will feel the pinch; how many times did you have to buy a new textbook because the professor that wrote it came out with a 3rd edition, and that then became the required text for a class, even if you had the 2nd edition already?

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