Peter Kafka

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Kindle on Campus, Fall 2009: Will You Be One of the Lucky 300?

backtoschoolGod bless the poor folks at Pace University, who had to walk around their own auditorium today and tell reporters one by one that they were indeed involved in the college launch of the Kindle DX next fall.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, you see, neglected to mention this during his presentation this morning on the Pace campus. But I’m glad the Pace people were out there pressing the flesh. Because in doing so, they got to explain to me exactly how the Kindle will show up on campuses next year.

In a word: Barely.

Just 50 Pace students (out of a 12,000+ student body) will get Kindles next fall, says Geoff Brackett, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. Brackett says he believes the other five schools trying out the gadget–Case Western, Princeton, Reed College, Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State University–will get a similar number.

So if you’re geared up about the thought of using a Kindle DX when you come back to campus next fall, think again (or use whatever connections you have): Only about 300 students will be testing out the machines.

OK. So how will those students actually use the Kindles? There are lots of details to work out still, says Brackett. For instance, there’s the matter of footing the bill: He thinks Pace and Amazon (AMZN) will cover the  $489 cost of the machines, but the students will pay for any Kindle texts. But that’s not yet set in stone.

Another big issue: Which classes and curricula will be able to use the Kindle DX? Also unknown, at least right now. One of the things that will make integrating the Kindle into academia a slog is that in addition to the schools and students, individual faculty members, who assign reading for their classes, will have to sign on as well.

So even for this initial test, Brackett can’t say how many classes will offer Kindle-compatible courses. But he’s optimistic. “A typical undergrad takes five classes,” he says. “If we can get three or four of those on the kindle, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

The takeaway: The Kindle DX, or some version of it, holds a lot of potential for the college setting. It makes a lot more sense, I think, than the notion of a Kindle as a newspaper-saver. But it’s going to take a very long time to get there.

I also talked to Amazon exec Ian Freed, who provided very little detailed information, but also managed to convey the same impression: Unlike the earlier versions of the Kindle, Amazon seems to be launching the DX with lots of hedge words, like “early” and “experiment.”

Perhaps that’s because I spent most of my interview time asking him about price, price and price. But see for yourself, below. Apologies for the brief iMovie caption glitch in the first few seconds of the clip. Also sorry about the overly close shot of Freed, who was a good sport about the whole thing.