This article from BYU's website notes that "the average college student spends about $850 to $942 per year on textbooks and supplies." With two kids currently studying at Purdue (Boiler Up!), I can vouch for that fact. And while I'm delighted to see the industry looking at e-book alternatives, including the Kindle, I can't help but think everyone is too focused on applying the old rules to the new potential models.
The perfect example is the used textbook market, which is discussed in the BYU article. In the current model, used textbooks sell at a price lower than new ones. Makes sense to me, but why do used textbooks have to go away in the e-world? I would argue that they can not only exist, but that they could be sold at a higher price than the "new" e-textbook. Huh?
Let's say you're taking a class and you just bought the e-textbook for $X. As you use that e-textbook throughout the semester you wind up adding notes from the class, tips you learned along the way and maybe you even wind up embedding audio segments from the instructor's lectures. In short, you're creating your own mashup of the original e-textbook. (Kindle Version 1.0 obviously isn't built to handle or support all this, but I'm hoping a future version will! And yes, I realize the IP management issues that would be involved in this as well, but hear me out...)
The semester ends and you're left with an e-textbook that you might never need again. Why not sell it to a student taking the same course next semester? In fact, since you've incorporated diligent notes and other goodies throughout the semester, why not sell it at a price that's higher than the e-textbook was originally? After all, you've added valuable content to the product. Next semester's students are free to buy the original for $X, but if they value the content you've added to it, they'll pay you more than $X.
On the surface, the other stakeholders in the textbook transaction (publishers, authors, retailers and the schools themselves) wouldn't support this because they wouldn't want to lose out on the used e-textbook transaction. So why not include them on the deal? You're keeping whatever you can sell above $X and passing the rest ($X) along to the publisher, author, etc., so they're indifferent to new and used e-textbook sales because they earn the same amount either way. It sure beats the alternative of you being stuck with a useless e-textbook from last semester, don't you think?
I realize an entire platform would have to be built to support this...but it wouldn't be that hard! Amazon is in a great position to build something like this, but so are other e-retailers. We just need to stop assuming that all the old rules need to remain in place.