But how textbook publishers will use the Kindle and its competitors over time will decide how much of a benefit going electronic has for students. Such devices would certainly be more convenient than carrying heavy textbooks in a knapsack around campus. That benefit is obvious.
The bigger question is whether e-textbooks will be less expensive overall, since textbooks are a major expense to cash-strapped students. Whatever business model textbook publishers adopt, it's reasonable to assume that it won't involve simply cutting the price of their products, if it means less profit, and allowing students to share the digital versions of textbooks.
"Anybody who thinks there won't be some form of content protection is wrong," Mike McGuire, analyst for Gartner, said.
However, that doesn't mean publishers couldn't offer more value with the electronic versions of their books. In return for not being able to sell used textbooks, students might pay less for the electronic versions.
For publishers, going electronic could also open up the possibility of selling advertising and building a customer base to sell subscriptions to professional books in the future, particularly in fields where changes are constant, such as in law and science.
"Publishers could look across their businesses for more opportunities," McGuire said. "This opens up interesting possibilities."
How much students would benefit in terms of helping to reduce the high cost of education remains to be seen. But if universities, publishers, and makers of e-book readers, which also include Sony, Plastic Logic, and others, do collaborate on textbook distribution, then students are likely to see some big changes.
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