Kindle Textbooks? Never Going to Happen if Amazon Keeps This Up


I’ve written about how the Kindle and other ebook readers might replace traditional textbooks, and what the companies can do to make electronic textbooks successful. But, those articles assumed that the technology would be totally dependable. If people worry — even for a second — that their notes might just disappear if they start using the Kindle for schoolwork, then the Kindle will be shunned by students.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.

Here’s the story: A few weeks ago, Amazon made copies of certain books disappear off people’s Kindles. The books were purchased legally, but those selling the books didn’t have the rights to them, so the books were pulled and people’s accounts refunded for the purchase. Problem is, Amazon didn’t notify anyone, and people didn’t know that Amazon could even do that. There were a lot of unhappy surprises the next time people went to pick up their Kindles. Eventually, Amazon did apologize, promise never to do it again, and restore everyone’s books.

But, when one student got his copy of 1984 back on his Kindle (isn’t that book choice ironic?), he discovered that all his notes and annotations for his class were gone. That’s a big problem when you’re relying on those notes for essays and tests. Yes, the Kindle ate his homework.

Now the student is bringing a class-action lawsuit against Amazon. That might be a little excessive, but it emphasizes the importance of notes to students — losing them could mean losing an entire semester or year’s worth of work. Amazon needs to settle the suit quickly and quietly.

If anything like this ever happens again, it will be a gigantic setback for ebooks in education. Amazon better hope that people forget this episode. If this story crosses students’ minds when it’s time to decide on textbooks, they will find that suddenly all anybody wants is a good old paper book.

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