One of the great (and perhaps few) pleasures of lower middle school was receiving the handed-down textbook. You got to see who had the textbook the year before you—James Tinsley, maybe—and the year before that—Davey Volner, perhaps. You got to see their scribblings, their handwriting, their annotations in the margins, where they laughed or, more likely, cried. And at the end of the year, you got to pass down that textbook and begin the cycle all over again, the record of your nine months of frustrations passed down to an underclassman voyeur. The whole setup is colorful enough that it was more or less the basis for an entire Harry Potter book, if memory serves. (Ah, yes, it does.)
No longer, if Amazon has its way. Imagine, indeed, an end to the physical textbook altogether. That’s a scenario Kindle fans have been talking about for a while, but it’s made more likely by Amazon’s announcement today of Whispercast, an online tool that helps deploy Kindle content en masse. One of the many things Whispercast enables will be the centralized distribution of digital textbooks. The good administrators of Hogwarts, despite their innovations in writing technology, apparently hadn’t thought as far ahead as Jeff Bezos.
“Hundreds of thousands of students around the world are already reading on Kindle,” Dave Limp, VP of Amazon Kindle, said in a press release. “Today, we are announcing Whispercast, a free, scalable solution for school and business administrators to centrally manage thousands of Kindles and wirelessly distribute Kindle books as well as their own documents to their users. Organizations can also design bring-your-own-device programs at school or work using personally-owned Kindles, Kindle Fires, and other tablets using the free Kindle reading applications for receiving content.”
Basically, it appears that Amazon wants schools and businesses alike to start thinking of Kindles as they think of other resources, like fleets of cars (or buses). Whispercast makes it easier for administrators to register and assign users to a suite of Kindles. At the same time, it also allows schools and offices to capitalize on the “bring your own” trend that has made iOS devices ascendant in the workplace (see “How Apple Can Win Enterprise”). Kindle, of course, has a toehold on Apple devices, too—and they point out that Whispercast naturally also lets administrators push content to the Kindle reading apps that can be found on iPads and the like.
The idea of having Kindles in schools is hardly a new one—Scholastic Administrator took a look at the phenomenon a while back. “I see it as an update, not simply of the book, but of the library,” an enthusiastic early-adopting high school teacher from Fishers, Indiana, put it. But by and large, the Kindle’s brand has been more about personal reading—curling up with a book in bed or on the beach. When the iPad launched, there was much talk of how the tablet might transform education (here’s one Times profile among many). I’ve seen less coverage on how the Kindle is transforming schools and businesses—largely, I think, because the more basic devices are less capable on the whole. But with Amazon branching out into more capable Kindles (see “Amazon Pushes Rivals with New Tablets”), and with its entry-level e-readers more affordable than ever, surely Amazon would like to see new markets think of the Kindle line in new ways.