No – that title isn't a typo.  Today, Apple announced a new plan to bring textbooks to the masses for a hard-cap price of $15 — via tablets.  While initially targeted at the grade school level, if their wild new approach works, you can bet University classes won't be far behind.  But, not everyone is so wild about the electronic ink on the wall…

"The next chapter in learning.”

What some are calling crazy, may be the biggest revolution to happen to a nearly century-old industry in, well, almost a century.  The plan?  Simply cut costs, and therefore prices, by bringing the tools to craft textbooks directly to the masses — or at least, to take the privilege out of the hands of a very small subset of publishers.  Much like the way iOS (the operating system which powers iPhones and iPads) revolutionized the software application market – by slashing prices to an average of $1.99 – and engaging somewhat counterintuitive free market forces which actually drive up revenues for developers across the board, Apple's new software-literature development kit, the "iBooks Author" App (see Mashable's Hands-On Guide) would allow content to be pushed out faster, with far more interactivity, at a fraction of the cost of traditional publishing.  And, for free, no less. 

Among the problems it aims to solve:

  • Textbooks which go out of date the moment they're printed.  Unlike a computer screen, paper can never be updated once it's distributed (save the familiar experience of a teacher saying, "OK, on line 12 of page 234, what the author said was true last year, but you can cross out that section and replace it with …") whereas – like smartphone apps – changes can be pushed out according to new information, statistics, political change, discovery, and so on.
  • A business model which thrives on intermingling small, cosmetic changes, with substantial, factual changes, essentially as a means to drive up profits while minimizing costs, to the tune of $8 Billion per year
  • Cash-strapped college and elementary students who aren't able to pay for all the various necessities of college life, while spending anywhere from $50-$300 per textbook, per class, per semester, per year.  While many financial aid programs now provide benefits to alleviate this cost, most are generally tied to other "luxury" items, more like cost-of-living expenses, than actual classroom necessities
  • An industry which has increasingly come under the thumb of political movements; several years ago, a political movement based in Texas has begun 'editing history' in a way which favors political views, over factual information, opponents say.
  • Textbooks are, by definition, static; certainly in the past decades, many publishers have endeavored to include interactive components via DVDs and online course material, but there's simply no corollary for how a Tablet could function with injections of HTML5 — the latest web standard which supports live video as easily as images and text — which iBooks Author will allow.  (Sorry Flash, you're still out of luck)
  • A "greening" effect — as the need for hardbound paper volumes decreases, so does the planet's lifespan increase (we hope)

Warning: Apple Promotional Video!  It's well done, but doesn't skimp on the traditional Apple propaganda styling:

Like XCode, GarageBand, and iWeb, Apple's new "iBooks Author" application would allow the development of content for free, while utilizing a robust deployment system (the Apple / App Store) to drive down the costs of distribution.  It's really quite an elegant system — unless you find yourself beholden to carrying around hundred-pound book bags of dead tree byproduct. (Can you tell where I stand on the 'green' issue?)

But whatever the larger goals, this is not purely a philanthropic move. First, and most importantly, like other Apple products, the authoring software, iBooks Author, will only be available on Macintosh based operating systems. Yes, that means no one in the Windows environment will be able to contribute to the "textbook revolution."  Further, Apple isn't just looking at making the lives of students easier, without expecting a profit; the nearly $8 Billion-per-year industry will surely bring Apple some tidy profits, as, like other Apple products, the corporation will take a hefty sum off the top to compensate themselves.  Finally, Apple isn't taking direct aim at the collegiate market, at least not yet, saying that the institutions which will benefit the most are the Kindergarten – 12th grade level, a sector which is complicated by federal and state regulations and the beneficiary of extreme public funding, unlike many higher education institutions (Chapman included). 

The announcement was coordinated with a brand new version of iTunes released today, to feature textbooks alongside your music, television, and movie libraries.  How's that for an exciting night?


So… What's your take?

Is this the classroom of the future?

Image courtesy of Gadget Review

Image courtesy of Gadget Review


  • Are you excited to see texbook material brought to interactive life on a tablet?
  • How do you feel about bringing so much proprietary tech into the classroom?
  • Do you have an iPad already, or would you consider one based on this news?


Further Reading:

Edudemic's excellent "Ultimate Guide to Apple's Education Initiative"

Mashable's "Hands-on: Apple's iBooks Author App"

iDownloadblog's "Economics Behind Apple's Digital Textbook Initiative"