The Nook is Barnes & Noble’s e-reader, playing catch-up with Amazon’s Kindle, which now has a larger version, the DX, that the company says works better for textbooks. Seven universities are hosting pilots to see how well the devices are working in their classes, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Wired Campus blog. While Barnes and Noble indicates that the Nook isn’t designed for e-textbooks, they will start selling them in college bookstores. Should a larger edition of the Nook come out in the next 12 months, expect some action on the e-textbook front.
Personally, I think e-readers, if properly designed, would be a great way to handle textbooks, especially those that are updated frequently. From what I’ve read, there could still be some improvements to the devices that address how most people read textbooks. The search and indexing functions of these devices ought to be more robust for textbooks than for fiction or most non-fiction. Note-taking capabilities (kept secure and private) would also be attractive to students seeking to invest in an e-reader (though over a full undergraduate degree, they would probably come out ahead over regular textbooks).
This does raise a conundrum for textbook publishers and university presses. I don’t confess to understand the economics of regular publishing, much less these specialized markets. But I have to wonder if its possible that shifting to electronic versions of textbooks and other academic works would boost university presses and other academic publishers or not. Clearly there would be impact on the physical presses and associated printing jobs, but if e-versions of books could be produced at such a scale to reduce their cost, or with enough added features to justify the usually high prices, then there might be a future for smaller presses concerned about their bottom lines.