A Bag of Books

by Mark on January 8, 2010

A very welcomed present from a dear friend is a laptop backpack.   There are at least three other briefcases, gathering dust somewhere, to protect my PC.   This one is a bag for my textbooks.  There are four, ranging from eight ounces to five pounds each.  Add the computer, notebooks, chewing gum and other needs, and it’s like carrying rocks.   Consider the pressure on a five-foot freshman where the carrying weight may be a third or more of their own mass.   Painful!

As a rookie professor I am amazed at the technology coming our way.    First, the largest textbook publisher is offering a digital version of the five-pounder for two-thirds the price.   Not only is this alternative a feather-weight, but the digital version is rich with short movies and web-links, like a DVD.  The publisher may eventually make higher profits on the digital alternative.   They and the authors will receive comparable payments.   Printing costs and some middlemen are eliminated.   There are no inventories and related write-offs.  The students get a deal and fewer visits to the chiropractor.   One problem – it is unlikely the publisher will buyback the used digital version.  Since when did a student get a fair return for a used book?!?

So why are textbooks still being printed?   Reading a text book off a PC is not necessarily attractive.  They remain big and require power with limited plugs at Starbucks.   Most importantly, as the Amazon Kindle folks discovered, few people enjoy reading too much from a back-lit screen.   You need a traditional ink-on-paper look.   Does that mean Kindle and their Sony and Barnes & Noble cousins are going to capture the textbook market?   Maybe, but I am betting on digital tablets.

This week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft introduced their tablet PC. It is flat and folds like a book with Wi-Fi and touch screens. There is lots of memory for a library of storage.  You can download newspapers, magazines . . . and textbooks.   Apple is right behind them.  Pair digital textbooks with tablet PC’s, and a large portion of the printed publishing market will begin to disappear.

Okay, time for a little nostalgia.   I just completed over three decades in the printing industry.  Would I trade thirty or more pounds of woven parchment, exotic inks, ancient fonts and colorful covers for a couple pounds of wires and plastic?   I put the full backpack on my shoulders and grunt.  What kind of tablet case will I put on the list for next Christmas?

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