E-books are here to stay, as evidenced by the proliferation of e-book readers, apps for the iPod and iPhone, and even email subscriptions to books. As more and more books become available in electronic form, it’s only logical that textbooks would follow suit.
On June 8, 2009 California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced an ambitious plan to implement digital textbooks in all California schools. Phase one begins this fall, using e-textbooks for high school math and science classes. Northwest Missouri State plans to go completely digital and has been running pilot programs since fall 2008. These early adopters believe e-textbooks are superior to print textbooks.
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CourseSmart LLC, a private company started by five major textbook publishers including Pearson (PSO) and McGraw-Hill Education (MHP), offers e-textbook subscriptions for over 7,000 college textbooks from 12 publishers, which students typically rent for 180 days. CourseSmart recently introduced a mobile app for the iPhone. The app is available through Apple Inc’s (AAPL) App Store and is free with a CourseSmart subscription.
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It’s unlikely that students will do the bulk of their studying on the tiny screens of the iPod or iPhone, and it’s equally unlikely students will buy an iPhone just to make use of the app. But could it be a backdoor introduction to an upcoming Apple product? Apple has long been rumored to be developing an e-book reader of its own, and the company recently gave some credence to those rumors with the announcement of a new touch-screen tablet device to debut by the end of 2009. With a generous 10-inch screen, it seems likely this device could double as an e-book reader. An iTablet would be a viable competitor in the e-book reader market.
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Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) Kindle is currently the leader in e-book readers, and the newest model, the Kindle DX, with its 9.7-inch screen appears intended for the textbook and newspaper crowd. Six universities plan to test-drive e-textbooks on the Kindle this fall, and three textbook publishers will produce books for the device.
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Sony Corp. (SNE) has a respectable e-book reader that actually mimics the sensation of a print book better than the Kindle, but it lags in popularity. It’s also not designed for textbooks. The pilot program at Northwest Missouri State determined that the PRS- 505 did not meet student needs. The PRS-700 may be a better fit, but it still has only a 6-inch screen.
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Regardless of the reader, the current e-textbook delivery model suffers from a serious drawback, namely the digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. DRM severely limits the number of users and the ability to print. The limited subscription period removes a student’s choice to retain the book or sell it back to the bookstore. And, although e-texts come with lower upfront costs, final costs end up about equal after factoring in resale of print books.
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In addition, most current devices are limited to proprietary e-book formats. E-books published in one format are unreadable on competing devices. This limits choice in both book and device selection.
The recent push has been toward open content licenses, such as the Creative Commons license. Many university professors are embracing the open textbook movement, even at such august institutions as Harvard and Caltech. California’s plan is based on open content licenses as well. These books are generally freely available through a web browser or other free software.
The Sony reader is currently the only major e-book reader that can open multiple formats, including the current open standard, Epub. If open textbooks take the lead, Sony will have a surprising advantage over both Apple and Amazon.
It will be a while before e-books totally replace paper books, but each of the companies mentioned should benefit from the e-book marketplace. An investor might consider a covered call investing strategy for these companies. A covered call investing strategy consists of selling a call option against an existing or purchased stock.
A covered call investing strategy can be applied to each of the companies mentioned in this article. For example a covered call investing position is available for Amazon for October stock options expiration and the position has a potential return of 5.4%. A covered call investing position is available for Apple Computer for October stock options expiration with a potential return of 5%.
Option investors interested in reduced risk investing might consider a married puts strategy. A married puts strategy consists of purchasing a stock and a put option. A put option can be considered the same as stock insurance. A put option can be used to protect a trading portfolio. A good way to limit time value decay is to purchase the put option significantly in-the-money as opposed to out-of-the-money. For a married puts strategy with the put option significantly in-the-money, the maximum risk is known and the position has unlimited upside potential.
An investor can also combine the married puts strategy with the covered call investing strategy to generate monthly income which is protected in case the underlying stock drops significantly in price.
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[tags] e-book, iPod, iPhone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California schools, Northwest Missouri State, CourseSmart, Kindle, textbooks, DRM, Epub, AAPL, Apple Computer Inc., AMZN, Amazon.com Inc., MHP, McGraw-Hill Co. Inc., SNE, Sony Corp. ADR [/tags]