‘Rampant piracy will be the Kindle DX’s savior,’ says TechCrunch

image The Kindle DX has a larger screen than earlier Kindles and can natively handle PDFs. But it costs $489, not $359, the price of the Kindle 2.

Will piracy be the new Kindle’s savior---justifying its purchase by students who might otherwise avoid it?

Over at TechCrunch, Jason Kincaid answers yes. I’m not quite as sure. $489 is a pretty hefty upfront investment, and if you can pay that much, you just might also want to buy books legally (a point I’m hardly the first to make). But then again, cash-strapped students in many situations must spend so much for books that the economics might still justify the piracy.

Needed: New biz models in textbook biz

Isn’t this one more argument for textbook publishers changing business models and leaning on universities to build book costs into tuition? That would be more effective than DRM as a revenue preserver. Perhaps tuition could reflect the kinds of courses taken.

If the universities won’t try these innovations on their own, maybe it’s time for legislation. The copyright interests have often succeeded in using legislation to force universities to deal with file-sharing. Perhaps they should do the same when it comes to business models. Same for the copyright interests in other countries.

Of course, perhaps the ultimate solution would be a national digital library system in the TeleRead vein, with fair compensation for textbook publishers and other content providers.

Related: $243 for Sony e-book on Balzac’s short fiction? But wait! How about the $6.4K Kindle nuclear engineering e-book? and New York City kids fall in love with SELF-published novels approved by local board of ed.

6 Comments on ‘Rampant piracy will be the Kindle DX’s savior,’ says TechCrunch

  1. With the price of textbooks at over a hundred bucks a pop, you could pay for a Kindle DX in a single semester–assuming the electronic versions of the texts were say, half that of the paper. No need for piracy.

    In terms of bundling with tuition, I can see this creating some perverse incentives. If you were a professor and you knew the students would never see it, why not assign that thousand dollar text you happened to self-publish?

    In terms of DRM, maybe something based on social DRM. Suppose the texts included tests with codes relating to student SS#s. You could share your books, but whoever borrowed couldn’t take the test (or at least not under their name). Of course, that would mean the profs would have to use those tests, but at least in introductory classes, I wouldn’t think that would be a problem.

    Rob Preece

  2. I can think of a very simple way to thwart etextbook pirates: withhold grades until a valid receipt is provided to the College/University administration. If the students don’t pay for the etextbook they can’t get their grades. To prevent scams or other falsified receipts, the seller of the etextbooks could provide a service to CC receipts when the purchase is made. If the system were set up well, then the actual download of the etextbook could be free if some ambitious student just want to audit a class. Only students who want a grade would have to pay.

  3. Robin Whitman // May 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm //

    I have no answers; but a few questions …

    Greg’s verification program is clever. But is it legal? … Have the laws changed, so that bookstores have the right to supply the names of book buyers? … There are some privacy issues here, which are not small.

    Does Amazon want to build their Kindle business (as stated Kincaid’s article) on the unethical foundation of selling etextbooks that they know will be massively pirated?

    And if large quantities of etextbooks are pirated and shared on the Kindle, then what happens when textbook publishers complain to (and threaten) Amazon? … Whose side would Amazon take in this dispute: the publishers, or the student pirates?

  4. One problem I can see with Greg’s idea is the fact that students often sell their textbooks next year’s students once they have completed a semester (especially if it is a subject they decide not to continue). This is often aided by universities through social networking sites and provides a cheap resource for poorer students.
    So does this mean that students can only purchase ebooks through university controlled sites? Do the books “disappear” once the semester is over? I would have a real issue with this as I often use previous year’s books as a reference guide and would object to paying nearly full price for what amounts to 6 month’s “rent” of a book.
    I can now read a variety of books online through my university’s secure website, it’s included in my tuition fee. Some are textbooks but most are digitised reference material and journals. Pehaps I am lucky to live in country which encourages the less wealthy to get an education.

  5. Piracy wouldn’t save the Kindle in this scenario at all. More likely, anyone willing to commit “piracy” will find a way to obtain the Kindle book in a format suited to the device they probably already have: Their laptop. They’d get the books, and Kindle would get the shaft.

    @Rob: The idea of having the colleges tie textbook costs into tuition means that the colleges would be paying for the books, and allowing part of tuition to reimburse them. That means they won’t allow their professors to assign those $1000 books… they will tell them to lower the cost, or assign something within “this” price range. The idea is to make the colleges more responsible for the runaway textbook prices, and force them to act to keep costs down as it would impact their bottom line, too.

    Greg’s idea for validating classes based on trackable receipts is spot-on… though, given today’s counterfeit technology, they’d better be damned good receipts…

    @Carol: A lot of people mention the fact that students resell their textbooks, which is understood. The exception I take to this example is their suggestion that this provides “income” to the students… it does not. Those students paid more for those books than they get back at the end of the year, so they haven’t made any money… they’ve just gotten some of their already-spent money back… it’s a partial refund.

    If e-texts are sold at a low-enough cost, students won’t miss losing the refund. If it’s tied into tuition, the impact is (psychologically) even smaller.

  6. I see potential inefficiency in the existing textbook market in a few places:

    1.) Used textbook stores – student’s resell to an aggregator who then resells to the new round of students. It could be more efficient to let ebooks be “traded” peer-to-peer. Tie the DRM to a Paypal account?

    2.) Geographic Restrictions – I haven’t been in school for 12 years, but my assumption is that the aggregators are still local. But I’m sure some bright retailers are listing the books online as well. But assuming most students still drive down to the local bookstore: If Professor A in Kansas switched textbooks but Professor B in California just added the discarded textbook to his curriculum, then all those textbooks need to be shipped to CA.

    Ebooks eliminate those geographic barriers…assuming of course the publishers don’t suddenly want state-to-state DRM. :-)

    3.) Depreciation – I distinctly remember the few time I had to buy a new textbook, the cost was astronomical and the “trade-in” value at the end of the semester was sort of like trading in a one-year-old car. In the ebooks world, there actually should be almost no depreciation. (if any)

    So a student that bought an ebook and “resells” via some sort of peer-to-peer sale could expect a smaller gap between the “buy” and “sell” price. Of course, that is completely dependent on what the “market” is for that particular book from year to year.

    This are probably silly thoughts….but just off the top of my head.

    Clint Brauer

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