Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should you be buying and selling textbooks at Amazon?

I have long predicted the demise of conventional textbooks, but they are hanging on. For now, the textbook is king.

Faculty like textbooks because they save them time. There are only a few candidate books to choose among for a course, they come with teaching material like PowerPoint slides, review questions and test banks, the publisher maintains a Web site for the book, and the table of contents determines the course syllabus.

As teaching loads increase, faculty are driven to rely more heavily on textbook publishers. (I stopped using textbooks years ago, saving my students a lot of money, but costing me a lot of time).

I still think textbooks will fade away, but while you wait for the demise of the $100 textbook, you can use Amazon's beta-test textbook buyback service to ease the pain. A student with books in good condition can ship them for free to Amazon, and receive Amazon gift card credit as payment. That credit can be used to purchase new or used textbooks for other classes or anything else. Textbook ordering is also simple -- enter the ISBN numbers of the textbooks you need, and a one-click search returns links to all of them.

Amazon also offers many textbooks in electronic form for distribution on their Kindle e-book reader. The current Kindle has significant limitations as a textbook reader, but it also has some advantages, and many companies are working on other devices. (Maybe textbooks will be a killer application for the much rumored Apple tablet or whatever Hewlett Packard is cooking up).

The average US student spends $702 annualy on required course materials, and, as shown below, about 23% of that goes to the bookstore and distribution. Amazon hopes to get a piece of that.

(Click on the picture to enlarge it).

Let us know if you have been buying or selling textbooks online or using an e-book reader like the Kindle.