In a move to lure more school librarians to the Kindle platform, Amazon has launched a new free service, Whispercast, intended to streamline management of multiple ereaders from a central online point.
The service promises to control Kindles from a single access account by organizing users into groups, pushing content to Kindles and other devices from laptops to iPads, and tracking purchases. It also enables registration and greater control over ereaders, such as turning off Internet access.
Amazon’s previous set-up—managing each Kindle individually—was a “bee in the school library bonnet,” says Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian at Wayland Union Schools in Holland, MI, who thinks the new policy could encourage investment in Kindles by schools.
“This appears to be a step in the right direction in terms of efficiently managing a slew of ereaders in a school library setting,” says Jonker, who wrote about setting up an ereader program at his school in the SLJ cover story “Travis’s Excellent Adventure.”
But troubling questions remain, as Whispercast only addresses some issues that have plagued schools and institutions since Kindles were first introduced. Amazon declined to return multiple emails and calls from SLJ with queries from school librarians and educational experts about how Whispercast will ease those concerns.
“Before I could in any way endorse the use of Kindles in libraries, I would want to see a written confirmation from Amazon that this is an allowed use,” Harris says by email. “Barnes & Noble provides an education-specific statement of use. Why won’t Amazon?”
Jonker also wonders if school libraries will be able to enjoy simultaneous access, such as purchasing one ebook and sending it to multiple Kindles. Harris adds that the Kindle Education team told librarians that they could buy one book and push it to six Kindles, but Amazon won’t put that in writing. That, plus Amazon’s promise to terminate anyone who violates their terms of service, is concerning for educators considering the platform, he believes.
“Given the ambiguity of these statements, and the lack of updated terms to explicitly address school/library use, the termination section is quite worrisome: “Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Kindle Store and the Kindle Content without refund of any fees,” writes Harris.
Kindles face strong competition from other devices, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, Google’s Nexus 7, as well as other low-cost tablets, such as a next-generation iPad expected to be announced this week. However Whispercast’s ability to streamline a librarian’s efforts to run a slew of devices could give Amazon an edge.
“Central management has the ability to level the playing field and keep the Kindle competitive with other tablet and ereader devices on the market,” says Lisa Perez, network library coordinator, Chicago Public Schools Dept. of Libraries by email. “Whispercast has the potential to keep them competitive in the K–12 market, especially when it supports bring-your-own-device, an attractive feature in some districts.”