A Village of E-readers
Two recent articles reflect a couple aspects of reality that I see about e-readers: The dust has not settled yet, and the single, catch-all solution that many would like to grab onto may never exist … nor should it.
One is an article in BusinessWeek about how the Kindle has not wowed college students. This is the part where I trot out my sarcasm and say, “Gee, ya think?”
What does the Kindle offer college students as a replacement for the printed text? Not much.
When the larger screen-size Kindle first came out, I grabbed one so that I could get a sense of how well this would work. I had some of my team do test files that we threw on the Kindle. The limitations and frustrations jumped off the electronic page. The most obvious, of course, was lack of color. This presents a real problem for pedagogy in some disciplines.
However, beyond that, there was no clear benefit to the Kindle for textbooks. It’s a PDF carrier. It did not allow us to take advantage of the electronic files and offer the student something different or better. Art could not be animated, video could not be inserted, interaction (at that point) with other students was limited (at best), etc.
In the education environment, one of the exciting things about creating electronic files is the value added that can be brought to bear. But, giving students flat PDF files has some advantages: They’re portable, and more students are becoming comfortable with screen-reading as opposed to print-reading, etc.
At this point (note emphasis), Kindle does not offer that. iPad may be a big step in that direction.
But that brings us to article No. 2, in The New York Times. Here, Ray Kurzweil talks about the Blio software being offered on computers sold by huge retailers such as Wal-Mart. This would put a whole different look out there for a mass audience.
As you know, Blio is a software, not a physical reader. It’s built on a gaming platform, so provides more capability for voice, animation, video, etc. This seems to have the potential to offer much, not just for educational purposes, but for children’s books as well as for those who are disabled. Another device, enTourage eDGE, also goes beyond the Kindle in capabilities for educational purposes. And, of course, we already know the iPad does more, but we have yet to really know how developers will tap into those capabilities. And there are other devices that already exist or are, no doubt, in development.
This is not an endorsement of any product. I’m only using them as examples of the variety of e-readers that are out there, and the variety that we will need going forward. Reading a novel is fine for some on an iPhone or Kindle. Engaging children or students, or offering assistance to someone with certain disabilities requires more.
Sorry for the lame cliché, but it is going to “take a village” of delivery methods for digital files. Each type of publishing, and each customer, is going to find what works best.
And then that will change six months later, right?
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.