I read Johnathon Fitzpatrick’s column in the Seattle Weekly this morning, College Bookstores Learn Not to Mess with Amazon After Private Complaint Draws Lawsuit Over Textbooks (Mr Fitzpatrick needs to do a little work on his snappy headline writing style). The American textbook industry is upset by Amazon’s latest heavy-handed marketing ploy, offering up to 80% off of textbook costs for students by loaning kindle access instead of selling them the textbook copy. The lawsuit and counter-lawsuit were abandoned in this case by both sides.
I expect this new service will have difficulty building a demand. While the claim of 80% worth of potential savings on a textbook budget would on its face be very appealing, I suspect students will see the value proposition differently. No student wants to spend $109 on a textbook, but do they really want to spend $40 for a month’s loan, knowing they may need access to it again in another month or so (at an additional cost) for the exams? The question for Amazon will be whether the students see it as a great saving or an unreasonable loan charge.
The more reasonable course for students will be to borrow the textbook from the place they have always borrowed textbooks, the university library. In the past this has been a very hit-and-miss operation for students, because libraries only stock a limited supply of the books and they are generally loaned on a first-come first-served basis. Digital books change that paradigm for libraries as much as they change it for Amazon. With libraries increasingly providing digital versions of the textbooks, students are able to borrow the text for free and fairly conveniently. Amazon needs to ask what added value they provide to compete with this service.