Yesterday was a big day for Apple and textbook publishers like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill, which combined control the vast majority of textbooks in the academic marketplace (together about 90%).
The thrust of Apple’s presentation (you can watch it here) was aimed at the sciences, whose textbooks are typically very heavy and can easily cost over $100 each. Most of the high costs are attributed to the high cost of production – glossy paper, color printing, and binding. Apple’s solution forces textbook companies to bring this cost down to $14.99 or less. Of course, students can’t resell these iBooks that they purchase as they might be able to do once a semester is over. Although the first batch of iBook Textbooks will be in the sciences, I’m confident that history textbooks won’t be far behind.
However, these new textbooks accomplish exactly what I had been dreaming of – a multimedia approach to textbooks. In many ways, these new textbooks are very similar to some of the first educational multimedia CD-ROMs that were popular back in the 1990s. Instead of just including text, graphs, maps, and images, these new texts can include fancy animation, video, audio, and other new ways of delivering interactive content. Apple’s updated iBooks 2 application allows students to take notes, mark up the text with virtual highlighter, and search through the textbook for key words. To see an overview of the new iBooks for Education, you can look at Apple’s video or at Engadget’s video hands-on.
Of course, students (or schools) need to invest in iPads in order to make use of these new textbooks. With iPads starting at just under $500 for an 8GB model, this does represent a significant initial investment. On the other hand, if students are saving $85 to $100 per title, this could be a smart investment if spread out over a four-year college career. Yet, the basic iPad probably won’t be enough for keeping a library of iBook Textbooks close at hand. Why? Because these new iBook Textbooks take up an enormous amount of memory compared to the previous generation of e-book texts. Those previewed at the Apple launch event came in at a size between 800MB to 2.77GB. With titles taking up this much space, you won’t be able to keep that many of them on the 8GB version, thus forcing students to purchase one of the larger models.
If rumors are to be believed, Apple will be launching a new iPad 3 model sometime this spring – maybe even as early as this March. Apple might decide to keep the iPad 2 in production at a discount (similar to its current strategy with the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S), allowing the higher capacity models of the current iPad 2 model to be sold at a more competitive price to students and schools.
Apple might not have found “the” solution, but they have made a good effort and have come closer to redefining the modern textbook than any other company so far (Microsoft – where are you?). I’m looking forward to giving a few of these titles a spin in the near future.