Students Overwhelmingly Don't Like Kindle As A Textbook Replacement Option

from the ouch dept

Amazon pitched its Kindle Dx as a perfect replacement from having to lug around heavy textbooks in college, but it seems that the drawbacks to the technology have students pining for the old textbooks (found via Slashdot). In fact, in a survey after using the Kindle Dx for a while, “80 percent of MBA students who participated in Amazon’s pilot program said they would not recommend the Kindle DX as a classroom study aid…” And it’s not that they don’t like ebooks. The same report notes that “more than 90 percent liked it for pleasure reading.” Apparently not being able to “scribble notes in the margins, easily highlight passages or fully appreciate color charts and graphics” is sort of a pain for educational settings. Who knew?

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Comments on “Students Overwhelmingly Don't Like Kindle As A Textbook Replacement Option”

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Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

. The only ones saving money are the publishers.

Plus it would kill the availability of secondhand copies – which is one of the lifesavers for poor students (as buyer – get it cheap and as seller – recover investment at the end)

The publishers will be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of getting every cohort to pay for a new set of copies.

Anonymous Coward says:

it is the same reason that online references are nice, but little beats a good quality textbook for computer languages and systems. i personally find that kindle style devices are nice for casual reading, providing that reading isnt for more than 20 – 30 minutes. i cannot imagine reading a science fiction “paperback” that way. there is just something about the experience that doesnt encourage long term reading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You know at my school I took some classes where the book is both on computer/PDF AND in text/physical format. That way you get the best of both worlds. You want to look up or search for something real quick, like a reference or to go back and figure out what page something was on that you read or to look up something you haven’t read yet, you use the search feature on the computer. Then, you can see what page something is on and either read it on screen or reference it in the book. I’ve had one book, a very thick Oracle book, that comes with a CD with a PDF file of the book in it. I think that a combination of computer, some small hand held device or a laptop/netbook, and hard cover for each book might be a good idea, until at least they figure out how to master digital books without the need for hardcover.

Anonymous Coward says:

from the obvious department

Being a CS student I know that sometimes you just want a physical book in your lap while you’re doing work, and I’ve found ebook versions of the text books I was using in my classes and they are horrible for using like you would a dead-tree book.

BUT that doesn’t mean they don’t have a use, what ebooks need is a re-think of how the book is written, perhaps a better table of contents/index, perhaps call it ‘ebooks quick reference section’ or something. Just scanning in a book and putting it as a PDF, or w/e format you want doesn’t improve the user experience, adding in hotlinks that will allow you to jump around in the book, or from book to book (functionality like wikipedia url links) would make ebooks have an advantage over dead-tree books. Perhaps selling a collection of ebooks on a topic like Compiler Design or Architecture would be a way for them to give a RtB.

However publishers/authors/amazon/etc really haven’t provided a good enough RtB. the Que from B&N I think is a much nicer reader plus it runs Android which I feel is inherently better than the Kindle’s OS where Amazon can go in and delete your highlighting/books/notes/etc. (The que probably has the same functionality, but if you root the device that can probably be turned off)(This could easily get into a rant about unlocking/rooting hardware you purchase, but i’ll skip that for now)

As a CS student and someone who enjoys reading novels a lot, and as someone who has read his fair share of ebooks on the computer, I know that the books being converted to ebooks now are not any better than the print versions. excluding the functionality to search for a word, (which is so trivial its almost not worth mentioning but is still one of the greatest benefits of ebooks over print books)then ebooks haven’t really given readers a RtB because they are still overpriced and feature light.

I have a stats prof who is really big into R and has written his own book for Intro to Probability and Stats. This book was written from the ground up to be accessible to those who were on a computer, so therefore it flows a lot better than I’ve ever seen a textbook as a ebook. If more profs/etc wrote books like that, then maybe there would be a RtB.

so… ebooks =/= RtB

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: from the obvious department

“BUT that doesn’t mean they don’t have a use, what ebooks need is a re-think of how the book is written, perhaps a better table of contents/index, perhaps call it ‘ebooks quick reference section’ or something.”

You know what they need is URL’s. The table of context and the index should link to the parts that they are referring to and there should be a back button to go back to where you were. and any time the book references another section in the book it should link to that section, again with a back button that allows you to go back to the original section once you’ve read the linked section. A web page type format might be OK. E – Books can take advantage of URL’s to other sections of a book whereas hard copy books can’t. Page flipping to something referenced in a book (and flipping back when you’re done) through E – books is harder than through hard copies, but we have a solution, a URL.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Add Value

Digital textbooks actually offer the opportunity to add a whole lot of value beyond just being cheaper / lighter replicas of the paper copies. It’s unfortunate that textbook makers aren’t tapping into this.

Some simple examples:

(1) Any margin notes and highlighting you make on the text can be shared online. And aggregated somehow. When it’s time to review for finals, it’d be amazing to see what my class as a whole thought was important in the book and what wasn’t. And for the professor or book author, reviewing the notes and highlighting could provide useful data for future editions (e.g. “huh, no one seems to understand Chapter 7. We should rewrite that”).

(2) For that matter, get rid of editions! I keep around some of my old textbooks for reference purposes, and I’d pay more upfront (or even pay a small subscription fee) to have them automatically update based on new technologies or development.

(3) Let the professor rewrite parts of the book. Sometimes a professor will assign a textbook because 95% of it does a great job of dealing with the material, but feel that the remaining 5% gets it wrong. Letting the professor edit, reorder, emphasize, and otherwise customize a textbook for his class would be a great value-add. Also, the publisher and the original author are getting great feedback about how the textbook is actually being used.

And so on. There’s a lot of potential in digital textbooks, but people have to stop thinking of them as digital copies of books and as … I dunno: services, tools, communities, something — but definitely not a book in the traditional sense.

For that matter, they could get rid of editions!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Add Value

point 1 is nice but complex, as many of the student will not want to share notes around.

point 2 is nice but a bad business model. paying a higher fee up front for life long updates is a contract that is bound to bankrupt the publisher. it just will not happen.

point 3 is very difficult, because it would require getting permission from the rights holders to modify the text book. it might also get into some weird issues of having creationists screwing with science books, etc. teachers can give out hand outs and additions, but modifying a text book is a truly horrible idea.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: Re: Add Value

(1) Largely depends on the field. I know law students would love it.

(2) So do subscriptions instead of an upfront. Actually, it’d probably make sense to do this as a hybrid — e.g. pay a large price for the first year and a small recurring fee for every year after that. This would allow you to better segment your market — students who only need the book for the one year they’re taking a course pay only the first larger fee, while people who want to keep the text as a reference guide pay a recurring fee to have it update.

(3) Rights might be an issue, but so long as any edits you make are confined to your students and not otherwise distributed, I doubt there’d be a problem. As for creationists modifying the science textbooks, you can use a wiki-like history feature to distinguish between what the author initially wrote and what your professor wrote. Also, I’m really thinking of this more for college and grad professors.

Alternatively, you could implement this in the same way as (1) — e.g. the teacher might annotate something in her copy of the book and push that change to other student copies.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Add Value

(1) Fantastic if someone finds a good source or identities an error and passes the annotation around. E-books are no more immune to mistakes than print ones, they are just easier to ‘fix’.

(2) There can be benefits to having older copies around, for comparison or for instance in computer hardware situations. But it would certainly be good to have it updatable, with maybe the option of storing old text.

Editions still have value for historical reference purposes: “This chapter was in the second edition but removed from the third” where you may actually want to reference that chapter. Remember, libraries often have older editions of books without them suddenly becoming useless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Add Value

3) might work better as a supplement written by the teacher as a file that gets distributed as text book or pdf to the class.

Having worked at a Kinko’s in the nineties that assembled texts from licensed works and professors own writings this might even be doable. It would require some one running down rights for the sections used and paying what ever royalty would be required. It would certainly be easier to track sales.

anymouse (profile) says:

Re: Add Value


Next people will be saying that movie studios could do away with release ‘windows’ and still make money…

You do realize that expecting companies NOT to charge you over and over for the same thing (in a different format, in a ‘new and improved’ version, in a new edition, etc) will be the DEATH OF THOSE COMPANIES….

I mean it’s not like they know how to provide customers with value, all they know how to do is suck every last dime out of their existing products, then they slap it in a new format/edition, rinse, and repeat.

Now where did I leave that tinfoil….

Atkray (profile) says:

I’m in an IT program and we have only Ebooks. The first 2 bothered me, now I would not want a textbook at all. I have a 17″ laptop that is probably too heavy for most people but it allows me to read ebooks, listen to my music, and do research on the web all from the same device, and all with a full size keyboard and 32bit true color. ¿Kindle? No thank you.

Anonymous Coward says:

I agree, for educational purposes you often need to look at detailed graphs and pictures to understand new concepts and it helps to write in your book and highlight certain key concepts as well. Pleasure reading isn’t designed to teach you anything so the Kindle makes more sense in that regard since detailed images and graphs and charts aren’t necessary.


Re: Wired magazine demo

You mean an “interactive magazine”? They had these in the 80s. The useful part about content is being able to manipulate it rather than reducing it to a souped up Television experience.

That’s the key problem with the survey group. They are forced to deal with content in the locked down manner that Big Content wants them to and Apple is a willing accomplice. So is Amazon.

The Kindle and iPad are fine until you stumble upon users with a little imagination. Then both kind of fall apart.

Andy (profile) says:


One reason fro the slow adoption of online books or resources is that they organize them the same way as a printed book – although computer, Kindle, and even the iPad are not as good at beings books as books are. However, we need to rethink how we prestn material in electronic form. The same goes for elearning – we limit ourselves to the knowledge of how classroom learning works – instead of taking advatnage of the unique properties and capabilites of electronic media.

One big drawback in pdf documents is that very few producers use bookmarks at all – and the lack of note taking capabilites is a serious drawback – Adobe needs to rethink this process before Google decides to and makes pdf a useless format.

Books replaced oral tradition – and I am sure that if humans had gone right from oral tradition directly to the printing press than the printed word might have been scrapped as overly technological and limited. It is the same with energy – we constantly try to replace fossil fuels by simply tying other sources into a system designed for the efficiencies of fossil fuels – ignoring the different capabilites and limitations.

New technologies sometimes require a new way of thinking about how we interact.

Allen (profile) says:

I wonder how much this is an artifact of teaching methods.

If you’ve been taught out of a text book your whole life and marking passages and writing notes in the book are part of that, changing your learning method by the time you get to an MBA is going to be hard.

I dont expect it would bother me. We borrowed texts from the school in high school and dark and terrible things were threatened to anyone who dared to mark the books in anyway. Even when we had to buy the books in uni I wrote my notes separately in loose leaf.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We borrowed texts from the school in high school and dark and terrible things were threatened to anyone who dared to mark the books in anyway.

I use sticky notes in my books, because often my marginal comments themselves need to be edited later. If I’ve written “this equation is !$!@#$ up!” and later figure out that it isn’t it’s impossible to erase the original. In that sense full Acrobat would work just fine.

Way back when when Apple first introduced the hyperstack it was expected to replace the conventional book because you could easily go from topic to topic and back. E-books seem more like a reversion to scrolls that must be read from top to bottom.

Bookmarks would help here. A 1000+ page software reference that I use all the time is very usable because the TOC links to the section.

herodotus (profile) says:

I’ll use whatever is available when doing research. In many cases, Google Books and the Internet Archive are the only options.

But hard copies of books are always preferable. You’d think it would be easier with ebooks, as the text can be searched and whatnot. But my experience has been otherwise.

Books have been around for a long time. The codex book format predates printing by a thousand years. There are good reasons why they are still in use, and will be for many years to come.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Larger screen needed ...

A month back I purchased a Samsung 46 inch Led TV. A week ago I opened a pdf file in dual page mode on it. It was the first time I could actually deal with an e-book on screen.

The problem with the kindle is the small size and the fact that it only displays one page at a time. If they were to create an fold up 8 1/2 x 11 dual display kindle it would probably be accepted by students.

There is a psychology behind this, people are used to books displaying two pages. Then there are the issues of easy of use, ease of taking notes, and readability.

jsf (profile) says:

For me he biggest problem with ebook readers for text books and technical stuff is twofold.

First, you can’t have multiple books open at the same time. There are many times when I have had to compare multiple sources to each other. While you can do this ok on a PC you can’t display more then one source at a time on any of the ebook readers that I have seen.

Second, physical books are often faster to access. Many of my “go to” reference books sit within arms reach and have the most frequently used pages marked with Post-It notes. I can get to the page I need in a matter of seconds. Much faster then an ebook reader.

For things like novels I have no problem with ebook readers however.

It really comes down to random versus sequential access. Todays ebook readers just don’t work well for random/semi-random access.

Brian says:


I am an MBA student and have purchased over a thousand dollars worth of books in the past year. If I would have used kindle or other ebooks it would be more than twice that.

There is no like in the equation, it is dollars and cents.

Students can buy a used book for $22.13, a new one for $105.42 or an ebook version for $99.98 that can’t be sold …


Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps one advantage that E – Books should have (even perhaps PDF documents) when dealing with a very specific subject is the ability for readers to click a word and hear how it’s pronounced (or hear the different possible pronunciations and perhaps have some background info on each pronunciation, like people from X region of the world tend to pronounce this word this way whereas people from Y region of the world tend to pronounce this word that way). I can’t tell you how many times I come by words I can’t pronounce and some of the words can’t be found in some online dictionaries that have word pronunciation. If an E – Book had speakers of some sort and the ability for users to select a word and hear it’s valid pronunciations it would be nice.

manilyn (profile) says:

converting your kindle clippings

this may be a bit off topic, but just a simple trick I want to share. there are also free online tools like which users can use to convert their clippings to possibly more convenient or workable formats (such as pdf, excel, or word). I personally find such tools very useful in organizing and viewing my clippings to other devices such as a pc.

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