Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice

Inspiring and informing your business school journey

mobile search icon

Darden Students Give Kindle Reality Check

MBAs just want a normal book for easy note taking

By  Sunny Li

Mon Nov 16 2009

Amazon’s sales may be up 30 per cent on last year but the online retailer’s wireless reading device, the Kindle, is receiving mixed reviews in a pilot program at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

Back in May Amazon selected Darden as the world's only business school to participate in the pilot, in which MBA students are using the new, upgraded Kindle DX, priced at $489 in the US market, to access academic materials.
Students are supposed to test features including wireless connection to the library, access to a built-in dictionary and, notably, new note-taking and highlighting tools that seek to replicate the way regular books are used. However, some of these features haven't exactly worked out.  
For instance, note taking seems to be hard. “I like to be able to take tons of notes in my margins, circle numbers, and flip back and forth between body text, data and exhibits,” said first-year MBA Liz Brower, 25, whose use of the Kindle has been “minimal”.
“As a result, I have resorted to using paper cases for more quantity-heavy cases,” she added. 
Classmate Joseph Chard agreed: “It [Kindle] lets you take notes on it but then the notes are hard to view,” said the 28-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio.
When the Kindle is turned on a quote from Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, appears: “The Kindle’s job is just to get out of the way so you can enjoy your reading,” it says. However Chard found the statement confusing.
“As a device the Kindle is sort of caught between trying to be just a book and having cool technology at its disposal,” he said. “So they seem loath to add a lot of features that are technologically feasible.
“I would probably not pay $500 for it, but $200, maybe,” he continued.
Despite its limitations, Kindle does provide useful functionalities according to the pair. Brower said the device is convenient and light, and so should be easy to use for reading novels.
According to Chard, Kindle is “full of potential”, particularly if Amazon reviews how people study and adapts its technology accordingly.
Robert Carraway, associate dean at Darden, insisted Kindle had been a success on campus: “As 95 per cent of materials that we teach are available on Kindle, it's easier for the students to prepare for classes,” he said. 
Carraway, who teaches quantitative analysis to both first and second-year MBAs, said he has seen many “enthusiastic users”. His feeling from talking to students is that Kindle “has been popular”.
Amazon chose Darden for the school's heavy teaching focus, according to Carraway. Darden faculty and students are exploring ways to use Kindle “other than those Amazon suggested”, he added.
A Darden statement in May said its professors and students would receive orientation on how best to use the Kindle DX for teaching and learning. A neutral, third party will develop and administer survey and online research throughout the program.
Recently, Bezos claimed that when Kindle editions are available they add 35 per cent to a physical book's sales on Amazon. Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that Amazon sold half a million Kindles last year and projects its total e-book revenue to reach $1.2 billion by 2010.
Carraway said he can see Kindle becoming the “Ipod” for publishing industry: “I am absolutely sold to Kindle, because when I am on trips Kindle enables a lot more [reading] options,” he said of his $259 Kindle 2, the latest Amazon e-reader available to the public. It sold for $399 two years ago.
So far, there are 275,000 titles available on Kindle 2, including nearly all 112 books on the New York Times best-seller list.
“The ability to download the papers each day for newspaper people - like me - is really good,” he continued, noting that three major US newspapers: the New York Times, Washington Post and the Boston Globe, are available at reduced prices to subscribers.
The e-book industry is booming: Forrester Research is now expecting 3 million e-readers to be sold in the US in 2009. The industry now accounts for $14m in book sales per month, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Amazon’s Kindle currently leads the category in the US, with nearly 60 per cent of market share. Sony and other devices account for the other 40 per cent.
According to Carraway, traditional publishers will have to shift their business model towards e-reading in order to survive. He is particularly concerned about small businesses such as bookstores selling university textbooks.
“Everyone is going to buy a new book on Kindle so there could be no used-books around,” he said.
But not everyone is worried. Leah Hultenschmidt, editor and website director of Dorchester Publishing, America's oldest independent mass market publisher, believes e-books have a long way to go before they win significant market share.
“At this point, profits on e-books for publishers are relatively small because the vast majority of readers still buy the print edition,” she said.
Commenting on Amazon's vision to have every book ever printed, in any language, “all available in less than 60 seconds”, Hultenschmidt said it “simply won't happen”.
“Authors and publishers control the rights to their e-books, not Amazon. And not every author is willing to make that jump into electronic format,” she said.  
According to Hultenschmidt, content sharing between e-book readers is crucial. Currently the Kindle system is “closed”, meaning it only works with e-book formats bought from Amazon. E-books bought from Amazon cannot be read on other e-readers.
However, competitors Sony and Barnes & Noble have been selling books in the open ePub standard, which can be used on a wide range of e-readers. Google, too, is following the trend.
“I think Amazon is at some point going to have to open Kindle to accepting the ePub format, which is becoming the standard from publishers,” Hultenschmidt said.