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December 20, 2007

Kindle won't catch fire in law schools

A late rejoinder to the discussion about ebooks and casebooks (Tech Law Prof Blog, Law Librarian Blog, two previous LSI posts): I don't think Kindle will replace paper casebooks in the near-term because it's less functional than a paper book for study purposes without adding obvious digital/network features for study purposes. I emphasize "study purposes" because students are not romance novel readers, and the Kindle targets the latter:

  • The size of the screen is still much, much smaller than an open textbook.
  • Thumb-typing annotation off-screen is nothing like margin scribbling. And not in a good way, either. (Heck, even writing directly onto a Tablet PC is nothing like scribbling on paper).
  • Multi-color highlighting?

Now, lighter weight is a significant feature (after all, I personally chose a 3.1lb tablet PC over larger, heavier, cheaper alternatives), but I would want more for my $400, even if I could get all of my casebooks on it for, say, $20 each (which I can't imagine the publishers offering). And that's because Amazon is trying to make books work like mp3s, not like blogs or wikis.

Casebooks exist in a social ecosystem of study groups, hornbooks, and inherited outlines. What students really need to do with casebooks -- after reading them, of course (!) -- is to rip /mix /burn them into streamlined study aids. Oh, and then share those with each other. While that's not necessarily incompatible with DRM, locking down the texts sure makes it a heck of a lot harder to do. (Witness the Zune, which, without DRM, would be a much better model for law school ebook hardware than the iPod).

There's one product that I think gets it in terms of the real potential value of ebooks in law schools, and that's Aspen's Studydesk. Though, of course, the problem remains DRM and its inherent conflict with sharing among peers. But it does get the idea that in law schools the casebook is only a means to an end (learning and getting good grades) rather than end in itself.

(I do, btw, think that Kindle has potential as a Toilet Browser, depending on how well it handles news sites and RSS feeds. So if someone wants to send over a stocking stuffer... ;)

Gene Koo

December 20, 2007 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink

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Comments

I graduated from Law School in my youth, however after graduation and taking the bar exam, I decided not to practice law personally. But it was the best possible business law I could have ever taken, and it helped me greatly in my life ever since.

But also as a very happy Kindle owner since Dec. 4th, I see no reason why the Kindle would not have served me in the profession of law. Of course I can store many thousands of books since I added an 8 GB SDHC High Capacity memory card. But best of all I love the search feature. Indexes do not exist across multiple books -- at best it helps for the one volume in which it exists, which is often very few of the possible books you will need it for.

There are very many other benefits that a Kindle can bring to a lawyer, but this will become apparent over time. It will be interesting to look back from the future and see all the negative comments from people who essentially have no creative bent.

Charles Wilkes, San Jose, Calif.

Posted by: Charles Wilkes | Dec 20, 2007 10:26:37 PM

I have no doubt that ebooks will eventually catch on, but I don't happen to think that Kindle is the iteration that will do it. It's still a few features shy of a killer app (excuse the dotcomism). Take a Kindle, mix in more open software and more tablet features, open it up to community interaction, and I think you've got something really worth a steep $400 charge.

Or, let's just make $800 epaper tablets (whatever OS you choose) and scrap the idea of a dedicated ereader for study purposes. Look what happened to the Palm... it's all converging on the cell phone. I'm not sure that -- in a business or school environment -- ebooks as a standalone have all that much value. Reading on the subway/plane, maybe. Doing work? Not so much.

IMHO.

Posted by: Gene Koo | Dec 26, 2007 2:14:02 PM

A late rejoinder to the discussion about ebooks and casebooks (Tech Law Prof Blog, Law Librarian Blog, two previous LSI posts): I don't think Kindle will replace paper casebooks in the near-term because it's less functional than a paper book for study purposes without adding obvious digital/network features for study purposes. I emphasize "study purposes" because students are not romance novel readers, and the Kindle targets the latter:

Posted by: guanacaste costa rica real estate | Jul 27, 2010 7:40:57 PM

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