An eBook company targeting the college textbook business called Kno (formerly Kakai) went out of stealth mode today at the D8 Conference. Kno is a Silicon Valley startup that spun off from Chegg (one of Kno's co-founders was a co-founder of Chegg.). The company has been funded by Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, Maples and Ron Conway, and it's looking for another round of funding this summer. Kno's idea is to rent textbooks to college students, and let them use them on a purpose-built, dual-screen tablet that's designed to be 100% the size of most common college textbooks. The result is a a big (dual 14.1" screens) and heavy (5.5 pounds) device that runs Linux. Everything works inside a web browser on the device. People at the conference who got to see the demo and play with the device said that it's slow and buggy, but the Kno team acknowledges the problems and says that it's working on them.
Kno hasn't set a formal price for the device, but it's saying that it will be less than $1,000. It has book rental distribution agreements with Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Wiley for a beta program to start this fall, but it didn't provide any details as to what titles or percentages of the companies' collections will be included.
It's too early to say how students will react to a big, heavy, expensive eBook reader that looks, to be honest, dorky. It's also too early to tell whether Kno will be able to retain its beta test publishing partners when it begins charging for readers and eBooks. Frankly, the Kno reader sounds much better in conception than in execution.