Apple’s much-anticipated press event on Thursday confirmed, to few people’s surprise, that Apple is confidently venturing into the world of textbook publishing, and that this is the beginning of a major change in the education industry. In a nutshell, Apple is putting textbooks on the iPad, and has updated or created new tools for helping e-textbooks make paper textbooks extinct.
The problems with traditional textbooks are manifold and well-enumerated: they’re heavy, they take up space, they’re expensive, they lose value (both informational and monetary) rapidly – and the list goes on. You didn’t need to be Steve Jobs to figure out that interactivity was going to add a whole new dimension to textbooks – even the CD-ROMs that still come with some paper textbooks are a nod in this general direction. The tablet, however, opens up a wealth of new possibilities that have the potential to turn the way students learn on its head. Receiving instant downloads of the latest research and studies, for example, or exploring interactive 3-D models of the human nervous system, or zooming in to examine Van Gogh’s brushstrokes up close – these are just three of the most basic applications of the e-textbook format.
Apple says there are already 1.5 million iPads in use in education institutions, and this is clearly a move to increase that number to, at a guess, the number of students in existence. This is what their bookshelves might look like (at least to begin with):
How Much Will Apple’s E-Textbooks Cost?
Apple announced that it has partnered with the big names in textbook publishing, like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw Hill, to produce iPad textbooks that cost $14.99 or less. Compared to paper textbook prices, which can reach hundreds of dollars, this seems unrealistic – until you consider that printing and binding costs are no longer a factor. If students can replace the $300 textbooks they use now with $15 ones, the cost of an iPad suddenly becomes negligible.
Creating Content With The iBooks Author App
The company simultaneously introduced its new iBooks Author application, which allows anyone to create their own content, i.e. write their own interactive textbook. The app is free and apparently easy to use, but the details of who will own the content and how it will be distributed are still unknown. An image from E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, a “Multi-Touch” textbook, is below. Note the interactive map:
The catch to all this, of course, is that it’s all tied to Apple products – not only do you need the iPad to read the textbook, you need a Mac to create one with iBooks Author. Still, where Apple goes the world follows, and an announcement like this is the definition of “game changer”. If you own stock in a printing company, now might be a good time to sell.