$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration

It is no secret that Amazon has its eyes on getting Kindles into schools.  That was pretty clear even before the Kindle DX pilot programs and Kindle textbook rentals.  The best part of that for them is that many students and teachers would just love to adopt the new technology.  Unfortunately the issue of accessibility has gotten in the way of such efforts in the past and seem likely to intrude even more so now with the release of the $80 basic Kindle.

The initial efforts to get students and teachers to adopt the Kindle met with some complications.  There are objections to the eReader in general, based on the idea that, since students are trained from early on to highlight and annotate their books while reading actively, they will find themselves less engaged than usual in non-paper books.  This isn’t unreasonable, but it basically amounts to the argument that things shouldn’t change because things have always been this way.  A bit circular.  At best, this side implies that early adoption is essential.

We also get people concerned that a Kindle will be a bad long-term investment due to the stranglehold of the Agency Model on pricing, which results in less substantial savings than seem reasonable.  This was more of a concern in the past, and will probably come up rarely now that an $80 Kindle is available.  The fact that students now have an extremely cheap option open to them that can borrow library books and rent texts from Amazon will likely be a big draw.

Official endorsement, and the potential for textbook replacement that that would provide, is still unlikely.  The legal complication regarding accessibility remains a large one.  Since eBooks cannot provide equal access for the visually impaired, they can’t replace textbooks in most school systems.  The Kindle seemed to be on its way to addressing these concerns with features like Text to Speech, but even that isn’t quite there yet.  It doesn’t help that publishers can turn the feature off, of course.

With the new Kindle’s complete lack of audio capability, the existing objections gain even more traction.  Now even if Amazon did find a reasonable way to address the conversion of print to audio that satisfied opponents, there would still be the problem of it not being applicable to the most affordable level of the price tier system.

If I had to make a guess, honestly, I would say that Amazon seems to have given up on the idea of formal adoption by the school systems.  The new approach, which definitely seems to have more potential, is a direct marketing to the students and parents of students.  It avoids bureaucracy and still manages to save everybody money in the long run.

As eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular become ever more common, it won’t be too hard to get educators to be a bit more open to their presence in the classroom.  Lots has been done to make it more possible, from real page numbers to shared annotation, to make the Kindle more appealing in this market.  They’re not going to abandon it entirely.

7 thoughts on “$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration”

  1. Sorry, this stance bears no weight at all. Amazon is giving up on getting Kindles into schools, because they offer a cheap entry level device with no audio output? I don’t see any link…

    There are still Kindles that have audio support. And their prices are still as cheap or cheaper as before. Nothing has changed in this regard. I don’t know how you draw the conclusion that Amazon is shifting its stance on school use with this new generation of devices.

    I don’t think the issue of kids learning they should write all over their pages is of any relevancy. Kindle lets users annotate and highlight to their heart’s content! Then, being electronic, these annotations are sortable, searchable, documentable, sharable, archivable, etc etc, so clearly electronic reading in this sense is far more customizable of an experience.

    The truer issues with textbooks lies in how the industry will address the notions of licensing and DRM. Students like to be able to sell their books, but ebooks currently are just licenses to read content, not ownership of content itself. I agree that it will be interesting how this will play out in the future.

  2. KM,

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you, especially on that first point. After how much difficulty Amazon has had in schools due to accessibility issues, coming out with a device that will effectively define the Kindle line as privileging the unimpaired will have its consequences. I’m not saying it’s right or that it would make sense to hold back the product over this, just that the issue exists.

    As for the writing all over books, I actually agree with you! The Kindle allows users to do all those things they are used to doing and more. The problem is that since this is not exactly the same, and studies have shown in the past that keyboard input and writing by hand are two very distinct mental processes, they require different training. Hence my comment about that being at best an argument in favor of having children adopt the new tech early in life.

  3. Schools can buy mostly $80 Kindles for the sighted and more expensive models for those who need a more accessible device. It’s not an all or nothing matter. That’s a false dilemma. Schools can mix and match.

  4. I can see how early adoption for kids is important. But I think – that can be expanded to just reading in general. I think kids who are taught the joy of reading early on, whether on paper or on Kindle, will continue to read later on, no matter what form or device the content is delivered on.

    And I agree with Roger re: accessibility. If you haven’t noticed…paper books are not accessible to the visually impaired either! It typically costs significantly more to buy braille editions or even CD audio book sets of content than even the fanciest newest hard-cover release of a book, never mind paperback or mass media. The whole world priviledges the unimpaired. Kindle offers a version of their device with audio capability. That’s pretty good I think already. To say that Kindle is discriminating peoples with disabilities because they carry a cheap entry level device in addition to their full lineup is a weak link.

    Would you say car makers discriminate those who are paralyzed from the waist down? After all, they don’t make the ability to drive a car using only hands a standard feature on every car. Instead, it costs thousands if not dozens of thousands of dollars to add that after-market as a custom option…

  5. Pointless argument on “privilage” and “accessibility”. Read “Harrison Bergeron” by Vonnegut.

  6. I’m afraid what’s most problematic when it comes to Kindles in schools is that Amazon doesn’t provide any way to manage multiple devices and content centrally. They even did away with the ability to use purchase orders with a corporate account. (Even Apple has given us ways to deploy and manage iPads which, while leaving much to be desired, are light years ahead of Amazon.)

    Here is one school librarian’s story:


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