Apple joins e-textbook party with iBooks, iBooks Author apps
By Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
Apple also announced iBooks Author, a free software application for Macintosh computers with custom templates to help authors create and publish their own digital textbooks.
Apple is broadening its iTunes U program beyond audio and video lectures by adding an app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch that allows professors to create full online courses, with assignments, books, quizzes and syllabi. Previously available only for the higher-education market, Apple is letting K-12 schools participate for the first time.
Apple’s hope is that students will find the new textbooks engaging. Students studying high school biology, for example, can view 3D animated models of structures within a cell. They can tap a word for a glossary definition and drag their finger to highlight a passage. The material can be updated. And the books can automatically turn student notes into study cards.
The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, had long been interested in education, and believed it to be an $8 billion market ripe for “digital destruction,” biographer Walter Issacson writes in Steve Jobs.
E-books represent less than 10% of the textbook market for the K-12 market, according to Simba Information, a market research firm.
Apple is stepping up its efforts in a complex and competitive industry in which publishers, book distributors and start-ups are also pitching their digital platforms for buying and reading e-books and utilizing learning supplements such as quizzes, videos and social-networking tools.
And Apple isn’t the only company trying to reinvent textbooks.
Bay Areastart-ups Kno and Inkling are among the lesser-known outfits trying to make names for themselves in the space.
“No one is saying technology is the only part of the solution,” Schiller said in an interview. “But it is a key piece of the solution. It can enable the teacher to have tools to excite kids that are otherwise hard to reach.”
Though Apple is targeting the new textbooks at any age or grade level, the initial emphasis is on high school textbooks. Books will be priced at $14.99 or less. Early publishing partners include Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which collectively control 90% of the market, with some titles available immediately.
Pearson CIO and Director of Digital Strategy Genevieve Shore says, “Although we kind of use the metaphor of the book to describe what these products are, they’re not really books at all. It’s hard to do comparisons. One of the books we have has 50 hours of video in it, so that’s a completely new set of interesting material that students have never had before.”
Apple is also working with DK Publishingon titles that cover
dinosaurs, insects, mammals and the ABCs.
Life on Earthfrom noted biologist E.O. Wilson is also being made available; the first two chapters are free, with the additional 39 chapters (coming over 24 months) “aggressively priced.”
“This is an authentic game-changing development,” Wilson says. “It brings the best to biology and keeps that up to date in a form that allows a great deal of self-teaching and exploration by teacher and learner alike.”
Forrester analyst Frank Gillett says that, “the big deal here is the big jump in the authoring app and the fact that it’s free. And it’s not insignificant that the textbooks are modestly priced.”
Gonzalo Garcia, director of technology, marketing and communications for South Kent School, a private boarding school for 9th through 12 graders in South Kent, Conn, is also intrigued by the pricing: “The thing that got me was the $15 price tag. I thought ads were going to pop up all of sudden.” The school’s students generally prefer e-books from Inkling, a Silicon Valleystartup that works directly with authors to reconstruct content, including video, audio, a social networking feature for communicating with other students, and 3-D graphics that can be manipulated with finger strokes.
Schiller acknowledges competition. But he says “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.”
Apple collects its customary 30% on the sale of books, though courses through iTunes U are free. “I wouldn’t put a lot of emphasis on the business component of this,” says Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “This is not a big profit center from the company point of view. And the majority of what we’re doing is free.”
DK’s deputy CEO John Duhigg says “From our point of view we are very agnostic (and) want to put our products out on every platform. For us what the Apple platform delivers in terms of the consumer experience that makes a difference. We work with pretty much anybody that will work with us.”
Still there are questions about how quickly this will all be adopted. During his presentation Schiller did not mention how many books will be available. Apple says there are 1.5 million iPads already in use in educational institutions, but on relatively few students have iPads, which start at $499. Apple is starting out with relatively few titles and launching the new educational intiatives at a time when many school semesters are underway.
“I find (the timing) very curious,” says Jeff Sherwood, CEO of Bigwords.com, an eTextbook price comparison site. “Obviously you would want to launch for back to school.”
Sherwood says most eTextbooks to date have been priced at just about 10% below list prices that can exceed $150. “I need to see what the catalog looks like. If Apple can you give a $150 book for $15, that would be pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, as NPD analyst Ross Rubin tweeted, “Much as with other printed content, textbook publishers will have to justify investment to add all this multimedia in Apple textbooks.”
McGraw-Hill CEO Harold (Terry) McGraw III says Apple has “turbocharged the process.” He believes the $14.99 pricing model can work. “In the online world your paper, binding, printing, warehousing (costs) go away. So you can pass that along and through the volume increases you’ll do very well.”
McGraw adds that “you can’t replace content and curriculum and pedagogy. We’ve got a different platform now than a textbook to do that. Everybody wins.”
Contributing: Roger Yu