| March 9, 2010

Worldreader Prepares Online Reading Trials Using E-Book


Zev, Colin and Mike unpack a big box of Kindles

Over the last two days, the Worldreader team has gathered in an empty classroom at ESADE Business School to prepare our e-readers for classroom trials in Ghana. In less than a week, we will begin working with the teachers and students of the OrphanAid District School in Ayenyah. David, Colin and Mike are leaving for Accra this Friday, March 12. They will have 18 Kindles in tow, thanks to the kind folks at Amazon.

Kindle setup timeline

But it wouldn’t do to just show up with brand-new e-readers fresh out of the box. We had to register them and load them up with some starter content. In our earlier classroom trials in Barcelona, the students in David Pover’s 12th grade classroom read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which was a free book. But our Ghana trials will involve younger children, with about a 4th grade English language reading level. Our search for free and/or open-source age-appropriate content didn’t yield much. While our long-term is to encourage the use of local content, in the interest of getting on the ground as soon as possible we paid for content off Amazon’s Kindle store.

E-book licenses and devices

We decided that we would start with four books and a magazine. As soon as we get to Ghana, we will confer with the teacher and modify our selection of content as necessary, but it seemed important to show up with something so we could demonstrate the potential of the e-reader to contain a veritable library in one slim package. Also, Ghana doesn’t yet have wireless Kindle coverage, so we thought it best to download some content while we can do it conveniently.

We underestimated the complexity of the Kindle ecosystem. In pricing their e-books, Amazon has had to balance publisher demands to control rights to their books on a market-to-market basis, the cost of wireless delivery worldwide, and the need to keep things relatively simple for the average customer. The result? Customers can register an unlimited number of Kindles to one account, but each time you purchase a book license, it is usually valid for only 6 devices.

It was great that we could register all 18 Kindles to one account, and we were prepared to buy 3 copies of each book. But we encountered some problems along the way. The system kept track of how many downloads we made of a single book (good), but didn’t make it easy to buy more than one copy of a book (bad for us), and occasionally seemed to get a little jumbled about whether we’d downloaded 5 or 6 books, particularly if we did some wirelessly and others over the internet (confused yet?).

Furthermore, the market-by-market pricing posed an interesting question: Should we use a U.S. or Spanish credit card? If we used a U.S. credit card, then the books would be cheaper. But because we are physically in Spain, we would have to pay when wirelessly downloading content. Of course we could just use a Spanish credit card, but then we’d have less content to choose from — for example, we found out that Curious George Plants A Tree wouldn’t be available to us then.

U.S. credit card Spanish credit card
Content availability Extensive Limited
Book price Cheaper More expensive
Surcharge per wireless download (outside U.S.) $1.99 Free (included)

David pairs each e-reader with its peripherals

Based on the various obstacles and minor setbacks we ran into while setting up all 18 Kindles, we’ve drawn up best practices that will scale for future, larger trials. The real learning will come in Ghana, but we’re amazed at how much we’ve learned before even leaving home.

The Kindle is making inroads among college students in the United States. It’ll be great to see how kids in Ghana will react to having the device in their classrooms. What will they think about the books we’ve chosen? Will they use them more in class or for leisure reading? How will their teachers react? We look forward to learning and adapting, and keeping all of you posted.