The initial textbook rush for schools on the semester system is over (and it hasn’t even begun for quarter system schools). I spent $100 on textbooks. Both of the books I had to buy were workbooks that could not be checked out from the library. I figured I saved myself $500 by referring to our how to get free textbooks post.

But it turns out there might be a new way to get cheap textbooks. Or at least there’s some chatter about the subject. Everyone is wondering: will the Amazon Kindle replace traditional textbooks?

The State of the Textbook

Currently, publishers are exhibiting one last cry as they are dragged screaming into digital form. Your average person been reading text online and printing it out for 13-14 years by now. What took so long?

Some publishers are turning to digital solutions. Last semester, I covered my first run in with the so-called “digital workbooks.” Digital workbooks are workbooks that can only be accessed online, through a site like Quia. Usually, they won’t allow you to print them out. I first encountered them in my German class and assume that they are more popular among language courses.

Today, publishers are now frantically boarding the U.S.S. Digital Cash Cow. They have all realized that if they keep their books online, they win. Contemporary textbook publishers despise free markets. With DRM and online-only content, they can regulate their own market. I agree with them! It takes a lot of energy to manufacture each one of those bits!

Will the Kindle Help?

The Amazon Kindle is an eBook reader recently released by Amazon, priced at $350. Analysts speculate that its high price point will be the product’s demise. Once someone buys a Kindle, she can purchase books for download for about $10 a piece depending on the publisher, book and current weather conditions in Greenwich, England.

The Kontakte Series is on the Kindle Store

Currently, there are a few textbooks offered on the Kindle. These books don’t seem to be any cheaper than their 40-pound physical counterparts. A paperback copy of Real-Time Concepts for Embedded Systems sets you back $39.94, while the Kindle version is $35.95. Moreover, most textbooks are not even offered on the Kindle like the my German books, the Kontake series. (Kontake does have their workbooks online.)

The Kindle has a long way to go before it can be considered a suitable textbook replacement device. If the Kindle paid itself back, it would make sense to buy one. If a student buys one today, they are simply paying a $350 premium for their books.

Open to a Solution

Wouldn’t it be nice if books were open-source? But books can never be open source!, publishers say.

Books–in the grand scheme of things–are simple tools. They organize information in a logical manner for reference and learning. If you are a regular HackCollege reader, chances are you are using an open-source browser (Firefox). It is a dumb comparison, but software is much more complex than a book could ever be. Books don’t have much logic. Books don’t break. Books don’t expose security holes threatening half the world that have to be patched overnight. Books are simple.

Why can’t selfish book authors collaborate to produce a few decent open books?

What do you think is the future of textbooks? Do you have any horror stories of trying to buy textbooks this semester?

Recommended Further Reading