iBooks 2, and Steve Jobs on the Digital Textbook Market

For the textbook industry, iBooks 2 is very big news indeed.

The digital textbook market has seen relatively modest growth over the past few years — for numerous reasons, one of the chief factors being how costly and time-consuming making truly enhanced textbooks has been — as The Wall Street Journal (“iBooks 2 aims to boost iPad use in schools”) points out:

“E-textbooks today haven’t taken off because most of the material is replicas of print versions, said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. By adding new tools so the material will be more interactive and customized for the tablet, Apple can help jump-start adoption, she said.”

The e-textbook market is still small. On college campuses, even as the latest best-sellers have become popular for devices such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle reader, digital textbooks were just 2.8 percent of total textbook sales in 2010, according to the National Association of College Stores.”

And let’s be serious: digital textbooks which are merely warmed-over PDFs of the printed textbooks really aren’t so hot. But, what about digital textbooks that offered truly interesting and valuable learning content for students and readers? How big of a deal is iBooks 2 (and iBooks Author)? Too soon to say. But, it’s fun to think about it: “If you look at what iTunes has done for music, if iBooks 2 and iBooks Author can do that for publishing it’s a big deal,” said Forrester’s Epps.”

The Los Angeles Times (“Apple’s iBooks 2, iBooks Author: Bids to own publishing’s future”) has an excellent first-impression analysis that I would highly recommend checking out. iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author app are big moves on the part of Apple to potentially alter the fundamental nature of the education, textbook, and self-publishing industries (and, to sell more iPads, of course).

Most interesting from that Times article, perhaps, are some comments from the late and great Steve Jobs courtesy of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, regarding the state of the textbook market —

“Jobs told Isaacson “the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt … but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money.”

And, we’ll just have to see what today’s iBooks news will mean for Apple vs. Amazon, and Apple vs. Adobe —

“Although Apple’s iTunes is the world’s most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world’s largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can’t match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.

The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feudwith from time to time. Adobe’s Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.”

Lastly, here’s an excellent question, which occurred to me while digesting today’s news: could the iBooks maximum textbook price of $14.99 change the shape and size of how we’re used to thinking about our textbooks?

“With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we’ll have to buy more of them.”


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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