One Little Control That Makes a Difference for Educators

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One of the most consistent questions over the years about Kindle management concerns how to disable the ability to make purchases directly from the device. For educators, this is almost a show-stopper with Kindle. This uber-consumer reading device, designed with book purchases in mind, makes it just too darned easy to buy a book, and that’s the way Amazon likes it. In fact, I deplored the removal of the wifi on/off button from the outside of the device because it made it more difficult to manage battery life, meaning that you had to turn the device on and turn off the wifi using an internal menu item when the Kindle 2 arrived. Of course, ensuring that the wifi is on at all times makes the Kinde Store just that more available for an impulse purchase. Sheesh.

So, the drift in Kindle design has been toward reducing features that make it easy to obtain books from other sources (remember the SD card slot from the Kindle 1?) and making it even easier to buy books from Amazon. (Don’t bother citing the studies that I am sure were conducted to say that this was done because this is what Amazon customers told the company they want.) The problem is that most schools want to do the book buying, and they usually discourage student activities which result in unapproved purchases that appear on the district’s monthly statement. In fact, the workaround in Pinellas County to allow students with Kindles (yes, all 2,000) of them to choose and purchase books for the dedicated ereader the school mandated they carry around with them every day is that the students and their families can “donate” books to the district by purchasing them for the Kindle, but cannot own them outright. Do you see where this is going?

Enter the new firmware upgrade for the Barnes and Noble Nook (released a few months ago–I imagine it has hit most Nooks in captivity by this time). One feature of the upgrade is to add a password option for the book purchasing problem. Now, you can password the device itself, as you can also do with the Kindle (generation 2 and 3), but on the Nook (and, apparently, NOT on the NOOKcolor), under Settings you will find the option to require a password for book purchases from the B&N Store.

How to do? Turn on the Nook and select Settings from the colorful menu across the bottom (hit the little “n” above the screen to awaken if dark). In the resulting menu, choose Device and then “Enable purchase password protection.”  You will then be asked to enter the password on the account to which the Nook is registered. Voila! No books can be purchased from the device without entering the password.

Now I would have preferred the ability to set any password to prevent unauthorized buying, but I guess it makes sense to require the account password to be used. That makes it uniform for all Nooks on that account, and it doesn’t create another password for you to try to manage. But it does argue for unguessable passwords. No more “cougars” and “titans” for the Nooksters among us!

So, this is just one little control, and I can’t reasonably make the argument that B&N listened to educators in any special way when they added it. But score another one for the last, best bookstore around! In the Amazon star chamber, no controls are going to be approved that would hobble (or insert a moment’s pause into) buying something. And maybe Barnes and Noble is making the kind of business mistake that folks like Amazon and Apple avoid at all costs. But, for once, a commonsense improvement that does nothing more than give users more control of their ereader device has been made available, and educators have yet another reason to look somewhere other than the Kindle when they expand their students’ access to books with digital text and mobile reading platforms.