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May 6, 2009, 03:08 PM ET

Amazon's New Kindle Is Unveiled in Hopes of Capturing the Textbook Market

This morning Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, held up a new, wider model of the Kindle loaded with a biology textbook — marking the company’s official entrance into the electronic-textbook market.

The news had been widely leaked all week, and the rumors turned out to be true. The screen on the new version of Kindle is 9.7 inches across — much bigger than the other Kindle, which will still be offered. And the company has set up pilot projects this fall at six higher-education institutions — Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton University, Reed College, and the University of Virginia’s business school.

New details included the price: $489. And the publishers involved with the pilot projects: Pearson, Cengage Learning, and John Wiley & Sons.

I offered my take on the announcement’s possible impact this morning in an article in The Chronicle’s online edition.

What’s in it for the universities? Case Western’s president, Barbara R. Snyder, said concern over the high price of printed textbooks was a primary motivation (electronic versions of textbooks are typically half the price of their printed counterparts). “Our students are definitely interested in learning of ways to reduce the cost of what they have to pay for their course materials,” she said. But will buying a $489 device lead to savings? “You have to look at the total cost over the course of four years,” she said. The university plans to give Kindles to about 40 students in three courses, and give an equal number of students paper books as a control group to see which group reports a better experience.

For Princeton, the goal is to save paper — and therefore trees. “Over 10 million pages were printed last year by students” in campus computer labs, said Serge J. Goldstein, associate CIO and director of academic services at Princeton. He said that as the university has made more library books available on electronic reserve, paper usage has soared. The hope is that the Kindle, which uses a different kind of screen designed to be easier on the eyes, will lead more students to read on the screen rather than hitting “print.” Princeton’s pilot will involve three courses with about 50 students total. Princeton’s project is expected to cost about $60,000, with the university paying half and Amazon picking up the rest of the tab, said Mr. Goldstein.

College officials first volunteered for the project back in the fall of 2007, at a meeting with Amazon officials during the annual conference of Educause, the higher-education-technology group. “They approached a number of universities and were interested in how they could take their current device, the Kindle 1, and make it responsive” to the college market, said Mr. Goldstein. He said he and other officials offered some suggestions — including making the screen bigger — and were eventually invited to participate in a pilot project with the new devices. —Jeffrey R. Young

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