In the fall of 2008 Princeton will join the ranks of Yale, Oxford, and UC Berkeley by offering some textbooks on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. The Kindle sells for $359 by Amazon, and uses Sprint’s high-speed EVDO data network to let customers download new books on-the-go. The device has actually been more popular than I anticipated, and it’s now catching the attention of universities.
Being a recent college grad myself I can say that having to carry around a Kindle over a bunch of textbooks is very appealing. Not only would it be easier on your back, but you would never have to worry about leaving a book you needed at home. The real question is whether textbook publishers will find the Kindle equally appealing.
I know you’re probably thinking that publishing on the Kindle is a win-win for everyone. Publishers wouldn’t have to worry about printing any books, and they also wouldn’t have used textbooks getting resold (which they don’t get any money from). For that reason they should be able to drastically lower the prices, right?
There’s a tiny little “gotcha” in the Amazon Kindle terms & conditions that would likely drive most textbook authors away from publishing their materials. What is it? Well, publishers only receive 30% of the revenue from the sale of their books:
For each calendar month during the Term, provided you are not in breach of your obligations under this Agreement, we will pay you royalties (“Publisher Royalties”) equal to thirty percent (30%) of Subscription sales revenues actually received by us from sales of Subscriptions to your Publications during the month, net of any bad debt, credits and returns.
For smaller publishing companies this might not be a big deal since the Kindle would make their content more widely available, but I can’t see some of the larger companies going for this. They are often accustomed to getting 100% of the revenue by selling directly to the universities, and so the Kindle would be taking away 70% of that revenue. Not only that but people would also expect the digital books to be cheaper since there are no printing costs.
It would be nice if Amazon was able to offer some sort of deal for textbook publishers so that more of them would be willing to put their books on the Kindle, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. After all, Amazon probably gets a hefty bill from Sprint every month since the device uses their wireless network at no cost to the customers.
Thanks to Omar for the tip!