The technology war has reached our bookstore, and Google won

Photo by Dean Sas via Flickr
Graphic by Sean Kershaw

Do you remember when companies stuck to what they did best? Google was a search engine, Amazon sold books and Apple sold computers.

Those days are over. All three companies have beefed up to offer a wide variety of services, and as a result, they encroach on each other’s territory every so often in an attempt to expand their customer base. Google, Apple and Amazon now offer music and storage services, as well as tablets.

This level of competition is advantageous to us, the consumers, because it drives prices down and offers a wider variety of choices.

This semester, Concordia’s bookstore started offering a decent range of e-books (textbooks, novels, etc.) through a partnership with Google and 22 other universities in Canada and the United States. “We are proud to sell Google eBooks because they offer students ultimate flexibility,” the website boasts. “They can be read on virtually any device, at any time.”

The key word is “virtually.” As a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle e-reader, which I bought for the sole purpose of reading, I was excited knowing that thousands of books, possibly some that I would need for class, would be made available for me.

Then I read this: “Google eBooks will work on the following devices: Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Computers, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo Reader.” It adds: “Google eBooks are not currently compatible with Amazon Kindle devices.”

After repeated attempts to get an explanation from the bookstore as to why it was exercising what seemed like e-reader discrimination, I got a reply from Ken Bissonnette, the operations and text manager at the bookstore. He started out by saying that the bookstore had sold roughly 450 copies of e-books that were required for courses in January, but “there are no plans to include the Kindle.” After demanding more precise explanations, he finally said: “At this time I don’t see Google using Kindle.”

This statement proves two things: firstly, that a partnership with Google clearly entails preference to Android-based tablet users, which is understandable, and secondly, that the bookstore itself is clearly unaware of student trends, and the advantages of making their e-books available to Kindle users.

While Apple clearly has a stranglehold on the tablet market share, the Kindle has the same kind of monopoly for e-readers. “During the last nine weeks of 2011, Kindle unit sales, including the Fire tablet, increased 177 per cent compared to the same period in 2010,” according to an official Amazon statement last month.

Kindle device sales in 2011 were nearly triple the 2010 total; this is due to its low starting prices and to Amazon’s “focus on an ecosystem and content for users, an approach closer to what Apple uses for the iPad, rather than focusing on hardware specs.,” according to Flurry Analytics.

The point is, the Kindle is prevalent among the student population and universities should opt to include the Kindle if they want to achieve substantial e-book sales. No one I know owns a Sony or Kobo eReader, and I certainly don’t know any students who want to strain their eyes by reading an 80-page document on an iPod or iPhone, let alone an iPad, which uses a reflective screen that simply won’t let you read in the sun.

Photo by Dean Sas via Flickr

In 2009, Princeton University carried out a pilot program (three members of faculty and 51 students) using e-readers in a classroom setting. One of their goals was to reduce the amount of printing and photocopying. “Most students surveyed in the Princeton pilot (94%) said they did use less paper, reducing by as much as 85% the printing they normally would have done in the pilot course,” according to the report.

Can you imagine if the Concordia bookstore sold the world’s most popular e-reader (which is already attractively priced) or at the very least made its e-books available to Kindle users? Not only would their e-book sales skyrocket, but the university would save an enormous amount of paper, which would certainly help Concordia’s efforts to become as sustainable as possible, and to be a model for other schools to follow.

More e-book sales would likely lead to more coursepacks and textbooks becoming available to the student body and subsequently, students wouldn’t be as turned off by the outlook of reading 80 electronic pages. So, will the bookstore bow down to Google, as so many others have done, or will it figure out a way to let us, the Kindle users, in on the fun?


  1. Kindle uses a proprietary format. That’s why you have to buy your books from Amazon. All the readers that the book store lists read a universal format called ePub. It’s almost certainly not that they’ve chosen not to support Kindle, as much as Kindle makes themselves difficult to support.

    Since it’s a different format, Kindle/Amazon would have to have their own publishing deals with the publishers, as well, which they may not be doing for the books that the book store wants to offer. They’d also need to strike deals with Canadian publishers, which are separate from American publishers, and frankly the demand for Canadian university text books among Kindle users may be too small for them to bother.

    This is pretty much out of the book store’s hands. 

  2. Forgot to mention, another great way to use the Kindle for school: PowerPoints. Just change the “theme” of the slideshow to a simple black on white, then save as PDF, and boom. 

  3. I feel the same way, though I was lucky enough to find one of my textbooks, heavily discounted, on the Kindle Store.

  4. Dear Myles,

    I understand your frustration with the Kindle e-reader not being compatible with Concordia’s bookstore; however, I don’t know if it’s the bookstore that is to blame, or the Kindle itself. Amazon sells its Kindles at a loss (thus the attractive price), because they can recoup this cost by forcing you to buy books exclusively from their online store. From what I understand you can’t take e-books out from libraries using a Kindle either. You get what you pay for!

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