Need a Textbook? Now There’s an App for That

textbook stackIn January 2012, Apple uncovered a momentous addition to the e-textbook industry: iBooks 2. This free app allows for reading interactive digital textbooks. Along with iBooks 2, Apple introduced iBooks Author, a software application that allows authors to easily create and publish digital textbooks on any Macintosh computers. Integration with iTunes U means that audio and video lectures are enhanced by iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch apps that can include full online courses. Course syllabi, assignments, textbooks, quizzes—Practically nothing educational is outside its scope.

From 3D animated images to highlighting capabilities and the ability to turn student notes into study cards, the interactive features are certainly in keeping with the Apple MO. Since like all apps, these textbooks can be easily updated at the touch of the screen, eliminating the need to buy later versions, producing quite the incentive for the financially savvy student.

Unlike the smart phone and tablet industries, Apple won’t likely be dominating the e-textbook industry anytime soon. However, Apple representative Schiller thinks that in time, it could truly impact the e-textbook industry: “no one has been successful (or) has created a platform for digital education content that has had great widespread adoption and made a difference. We think Apple is uniquely positioned to possibly be the first to make this work.”

If Apple’s first week after the launch is any indication, Schiller might be right: According to PC Magazine, during the first three days of the revamped iBooks app, more than 350,000 textbooks were downloaded; during the same opening time period, iBooks Author was downloaded from the App Store over 90,000 times. Apple’s launch focused on introductory textbooks, which account for over half of the revenue within the textbook industry.

Even thoughtextbooks on ipad e-textbooks will be bargain-priced at $14.99 each, they’ll probably still provide more revenue to publishers than the typical hard copy sales, since as much as half of textbook sales are made up of used book sales, from which publishers don’t make a dime. Add to such unprofitable sales the fact that e-textbooks cost only 1/5 the amount a hard copy book take to produce, and the math simply makes sense.

Even with Apple’s sprint out of the door, the race to the finish won’t be void of serious competition. From long-time textbook publishers, e-book distributors, and a smattering of other niche companies all vying for a piece of the e-textbook pie, the industry is actually quite complex. As much as the Apple educational initiatives have the potential to significantly impact the textbook industry, it really won’t become a major stream of revenue for the technology giant. While it will still collect the usual 30% of textbook sales, the iTunes U courses will remain free.

While there certainly are critics out there, many are targeting the attempt to break into the K-12 market. After all, for college students looking at paying $15 instead of $150, the financial savings could give a student a decent argument for buying an iPad 2.

Image credits: Top by Paulus Rusyanto / Fotolia; Bottom by Edyta Pawlowska / Fotolia.

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