Every year, schools, universities, and students spend a combined $10 billion on textbooks. But lugging around hefty book bags may soon be history. Amazon's Kindle already offers some 30,000 e-books for the school market. And now, several start-ups are jockeying for position in the race to replace those thick biology, economics, and history tomes with electronic editions that can be read on increasingly portable laptops, Apple's iPad, and other textbook readers. Here's a look at four companies that have jumped into the e-textbook fray and their strategies for winning over schools and students.
CourseSmart Launched in 2007 as a joint venture with five publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson, the CourseSmart website allows students to read and download textbooks. The company allows professors free access to any book in its extensive library of textbooks. The site's more than one million instructor recommendations help explain the company's 400 percent revenue increase last year. Books are mostly accessed via PCs, but the company has released an iPhone app that also works with the iPad.
NUMBER OF TITLES: 10,000
CaféScribe Co-founder Bryce Johnson started the company after noticing that many students bought used textbooks for the notes scribbled by previous owners. After downloading a tool from CaféScribe's website, students take notes in the margins of e-textbooks, then search other students' notes. A voting system ranks the best notes, and a summary serves as a study guide. The makers of CaféScribe plan to offer an iPhone and iPad app, in addition to the website. Follett, which manages 860 campus bookstores, purchased CaféScribe in 2008.
NUMBER OF TITLES: 8,000
ScrollMotion Designed to work with the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, ScrollMotion's textbook app allows users to flip color pages with a stroke of a finger, touch key terms for pop-up glossary definitions, affix their recorded audio notes to the page, and watch videos produced as part of a new generation of e-textbooks. The company has partnered with Kaplan to produce e-book versions of the test prep giant's study guides and has similar deals with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson.
NUMBER OF TITLES: 13
enTourage Systems Instead of formatting books for other companies' devices, enTourage Systems hopes to sell its own readers as well as the e-textbooks used on the readers. A foldable reader that resembles a Kindle and a tablet PC sandwiched together, the device allows students to read text, take notes on an e-paper display, and send notes as e-mail. The company is testing its device at a private high school. enTourage also markets the reader as a standalone product for business (see Meet the iPad's rivals).
NUMBER OF TITLES: 0
The Line: This is a close race. CourseSmart has a big lead and a highly effective strategy of allying with college professors, but it's doubtful that students will remain satisfied with a static electronic version of their physical textbooks. The e-reader device from enTourage Systems is an ambitious but risky bet that students can be lured away from the iconic iPad and Kindle brands. That's why CaféScribe, with its note-sharing feature, is a strong contender to pull ahead. And don't count out ScrollMotion. Its iPad app, with its many interactive features, promises to enhance textbook reading. That could give ScrollMotion the edge down the stretch.