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Apple Jumps Into Textbooks

20 January 2012

From the Wall Street Journal:

During an event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Apple executives said today’s textbooks weren’t adequate teaching tools as technology had raced ahead. Instead, textbooks should be portable, searchable and easy to update, they said, demonstrating the ability to load, close and manipulate diagrams and video content by pinching your fingers.

“The bottom line is immediate feedback,” said Roger Rosner, Apple’s vice president for productivity applications.

Digital textbooks are drawing growing buzz, as tech companies see big potential to upgrade them to the digital age while tackling often-cited problems with education, such as the rising cost. Sold by a range of companies from Amazon.com Inc. to small start-ups, the business is still small. Only about 6% of education-textbook sales will be digital this year, up from 3% in 2011, according to textbook distributor MBS Direct Digital, but that is expected to rise to more than 50% by 2020.

. . . .

For Apple’s effort to gain steam, schools must adjust to new buying models. Today, publishers generally sell high-school titles to schools directly at around $75 each, expecting them to be used for a number of years. The new model could rely on individual students getting their own books for $15 every year.

“We’ll do very well at that price,” said Harold “Terry” McGraw III, chairman and chief executive of McGraw-Hill. The company has five interactive textbooks in iBooks today and will have another five by September.

. . . .

Prices of the tablet devices remain a barrier to adoption for cash-strapped schools, which buy iPads from Apple at around the retail prices, which start at $499 for new models. In an interview, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, Eddy Cue, said “the iPad is already very, very affordable.”

The iBooks textbooks are available only on iPads, whereas other iBooks are available on iPhones and iPod Touches.

But playing up the price, iBooks competitors say they believe they can capture more of the market by selling titles that can work on more devices.

Apple’s iBooks service is in third place in digital books, behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble Inc.’s, which offer apps for a range of devices, according to Forrester Research.

Discovery Communications Inc., which offers an elementary-school science textbook that is accessed through a Web browser and already works on the iPad, said it isn’t likely to start making content for iBooks. “We’re not tethered to one company,” said Bill Goodwyn, chief executive of Discovery’s education unit. “A lot of schools may not have the funding for every student to have an iPad.”

. . . .

Ms. Ambrose also questioned whether a marketplace where everyone can create and publish a textbook will lead to lower standards. “Our society will continue to need highly curated core content,” she said.

. . . .

“It’s nothing new,” said Gonzalo Garcia, director of technology, marketing and communications for the South Kent School, an all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, though he said the “shocking news” was the $15 price. Currently, students pay $20 to $60 for a 180-day rental or splurge as much as $100 for a higher-end title. IBooks would also stand out by offering textbooks and literary books in one place, he said. He said the school’s iPad program was originally funded by alumni. “It would have been expensive,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Apple, Tablets