Apple and Hypothetical Text Book Killing

January 18, 2012

000Have you ever tried to search a text book? Doesn’t compute. The books are either not online, online but in a different edition from the one in my possession, or the content is partially represented so precision and recall are a joke.

I read “An Industry Insider Explains Why Apple Is Going To Have A Hard Time Revolutionizing The Textbook Business”, assuming that I was on board with the analysis from a digital textbook company guru.


The key point in the article in my opinion is expressed in this passage:

Historically, textbook companies dabble, before they jump in with both feet.

I generally agree with the notion that Apple does not support multiple formats and that the iPad is going to be the go-to device. Android, not so much.

My view is that there are three factors which are likely to conspire to create challenges for both Apple and text book publishers.

First, online courses are proliferating. The course material is a mess, but it is available to students. Professors and curriculum creators have to get in gear to fix up or migrate their existing online resources to Apple’s new tool. My view is that the baloney that is now available is going to remain pretty much as it is. Change is not the problem of publishers. Education from top to bottom resist change.

Second, one can talk about ease of use, but for a person without knowledge about text books and text material creation, no tool is going to be slam dunk easy. In order to dunk, one has to reach the rim, and I think that most content creators who wish to be text book publishers are going to shoot two handed set shots. Not the stuff of championship rings.

Third, the idea that a text book an be a multi media experience is an interesting one. The problem is that it is expensive to create a plain Jane text book. Toss in some nifty graphics for math or physics, dig up snappy illustrations for the course on the 19th Century English Novel, or just make geography come alive. Guess what happens to costs. Those costs make a plain Jane text book look like a real bargain.

I look forward to the Apple tools. A revolution is coming, but I don’t think Apple, specialty publishers, or the Titantics of the text book world will man the barricades. And search. Not on the radar.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2012

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