A price war has broken out with E-readers. And the most famous E-reader in the bunch, the Amazon Kindle, has just dropped in cost from $259 to $189 in order to keep pace with the fast-growing competition.
You can read more about this price war, as well as the Nook, the Kobo and so on, here.
But the reason this story interests me so much is because people are already starting to talk about the idea that if a customer buys enough content for one of these machines, they might just give the physical E-reading device away to them free. Or at least at a very, very low cost.
Think about computer printers. It’s an akin business model being talked about right now. The cost of the printer isn’t making the big bucks for these companies; it’s the fact that they can milk us all and charge us an arm and a leg for all the subsequent ink we buy once we own them… and that’s what keeps the real cash flowing into their coffers.
Might academic publishers – especially the textbook companies – soon begin to play this game with our schools?
You know they have to be thinking right now about selling a package whereby their textbooks are digitally pre-loaded on “free” E-Readers which then become an all-in-one purchase for a school. ELA, Science, History, Math… is the day not coming where the big companies make the pitch that they
can transform your school into a 21st century institution by giving you a free E-reader if only you buy ALL of their curricular content.
It would be green.
It would be digital.
It would cover all core academic areas.
It would turn heads.
Of course with some of these companies it’s still going to be like putting lipstick on a pig. I mean watered-down, sanitized, one-size-fits-all curriculum is wrong-headed and ineffective no matter how you package (or re-package) it. And of course, by not providing a device that can access the internet, you are leaving a host of amazing learning opportunities on the table for teachers and students.
Yet once you own the “free” device, they can then continue to sell you their new/extra-curricula/latest-greatest thing (think “ink”). After all, once they plant this free E-reader flag in our schools, it’ll be a decade before anyone re-buys new digital reading devices anyway. (Counting on the sloth of our schools has got to be one of their business strategies. Heck, I am sure behind closed doors, they factor it in now.)
Perhaps, if they give it to you “free” they will even program these machines to only read proprietary material. Sure, it’s an E-reader, but maybe it will be an E-reader that only reads “approved” content.
Good selling point to our schools, right? “Protect your kids from the dangers of the world wide web by controlling what they intellectually digest… by Ronco!”
And only Ronco.
Trust Ronco to teach you about the world!
Then again, if they do make these machines web accessible, then why would schools need to buy all the excess content these big, behemoth companies continually provide? Why couldn’t we just buy chapter 3, 6 & 11 in Math, Chapters 2, 4 & 7 in science, chapters 1-4 in history and then go open source/supplementation style with the rest of the curriculum? After all, so much excellent FREE content is available on the web that it’s a literal shame more schools do not have the tools to use it. Plus, many, many educational publishing companies have been over-selling us materials for years (they bloat their books to charge more, I am sure of it), yet we now live in the age of iTunes whereby if I do not want to buy the whole album, I don’t have to… I can just buy the song I want.
Can’t I also just buy the song I want when it comes to education?
Isn’t that some sort of rule in capitalism and free market activity?
Ultimately, this seems to lead me back to the iPad and all of its amazing capabilities. When I look at tablet computing, E-readers already appear obsolete to me. Sure, they may survive in a niche marketplace (I do like the way they read; e-ink is cool and easy on the eyes) but it appears to me
that a swan song is already getting ready to be played.
In the article I cited, they called it a “race to the bottom”.
Kindle, we hardly knew ya.
All in all, I have no idea how all of this is going to shake out… but if you think the past 5 years was characterized by upheaval and unique possibilities (think about the invention of YouTube, the iPhone and Twitter) just wait to see what happens in the next five years.
Buckle up, Folks – one thing for sure is that the inevitable shift to schools that use more digital ink and less printed paper ain’t gonna be smooth.