What about Amazon?

We are always looking for solutions to the challenge of supplying core texts to our students, particularly if we can make the texts easily accessible in ways our students want. If we can find a neat technical solution and a viable financial model in the process then even better!

To this end we were interested to see what – if anything – Amazon is doing in this area and how it might help us increase student reading of core texts and improve the student experience. Given Amazon’s propensity to reach out to potential new business areas and its ability to spot and develop client-focused solutions we hoped to find a lot of information.

While we did find that they have developed a product for the US market called Whispercast, there are as yet apparently no plans to launch this in the UK. One example of an institutional deal is in Brazil, where the Brazilian Ministry of Education – via its National Fund for Educational Development (FNDE) – selected Amazon to convert and distribute textbooks using Whispercast for up to 600,000 tablets used by teachers across the country.

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The immediate benefits to us of this kind of service are obvious. The market reach and brand recognition of Amazon mean its services are instantly familiar to students. Amazon’s simple, intuitive ordering, payment and supply models are attractive both to us (in terms of managing the project) and to students and academic colleagues (who would be the primary users). Notwithstanding any ethical issues these groups may have about Amazon, it is a fact that most will be at least familiar with the Amazon interface and many will have been customers in some capacity.

Amazon’s charging mechanism is based on a simple 1:1 transaction model, something we are committed to developing. In many ways, it appears that Amazon’s approach is not really a nuanced institutional pricing model but more of an attempt to encourage institutions to purchase books directly for students using Amazon’s technology and systems.

Further investigation on our part will continue over the next year but we are definitely interested in trying to move this forward for three main reasons:

  • Amazon’s experience of working with publishers and their ability to leverage pricing and availability is something we would be keen to tap into, perhaps with them acting in an intermediary capacity
  • Their experience of supplying both content and devices brings an understanding of the whole supply chain
  • We know that academics and students are increasingly using Kindles – for example, English Literature students are consulting poetry texts in seminars on them – and in addition to provision of core texts we also want to enhance the provision and accessibility of other library material and this could be a way to help achieve it

It’s very early days, but this is something of real interest to us in terms of our options for future core text provision.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Kindle 3 P1 via photopin (license)

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