iBooks Textbooks: Apple's New Billion-Dollar Business

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2012-01-24

iBooks Textbooks: Apple's New Billion-Dollar Business

In the United States, there are 55.5 million kids in K-12 and another 11.5 million students in two-year or four-year colleges, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. With an average of four textbooks per student, that's close to 67 million textbooks sold a year. At an average of $25 per book, that's a nice $2 billion a year market. For more than 100 years, textbooks have all been printed on paper and have all been "static"-what you see is what you get.  No animation. No embedded video. No way to interactively test and check your answers.

Then, in 2009, Apple launched the iPad. The company has sold more than 30 million of them, with about 1.5 million of these tablets finding their way into the education market. The first textbooks that came out on the iPad were simply digital versions of same "static" textbooks. The only real advantage was that the digital textbooks weighed less than printed ones.

To become more valuable in the education system, digital textbooks have to migrate from "static" to "active," in which authors embed animation to show, for example, factoring in algebra or a video to explain the solar system.

Some attempts to create "active" educational materials have been made online, but access has always been limited to what was available in the classroom.  Many students (actually millions of them) didn't have-and still don't have-easy access to such active content online when away from school or at home.

Apple felt there should be a better way. 

The company created iBooks Author, a free application that helps K-12 and college textbook authors and publishers create textbooks that Apple calls dynamic, engaging and truly interactive.

This is what we call "active" environments, where rich media can make the learning process better by engaging students in the subject, explaining it better, and testing and correcting them as they learn. iBooks Author enables textbook authors to update their work on the fly so that the latest improvements are immediately available.

And, through iBooks textbooks-the material that's distributed through iBooks-textbook authors stand to reap better financial return than they did when printing books. Oh yes, Apple gets 30 percent share of the revenue for helping create a very nice walled garden-one that provides value to the teacher, to the student and to the educational system. But, it's still a walled garden.

Apple Brings Major Publishers Into iBooks Fold


Traditional publishers will also have a role in this "active" textbook market. Apple announced that three major publishers-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson-will support creating and distributing iBooks textbooks through the iBookstore. Publishers already have relationships with most of the authors.

Publishers will most likely become the primary users of iBooks Author to help textbook authors prepare the final product that will be distributed through the iBookstore.

If the publisher puts the title in the iBookstore, then the publisher is the one that receives the distribution of net revenue from Apple. Thus, the publishers will get to share in the revenue created through the iBooks textbook market through their contracts with authors splitting negotiated revenue from Apple. Individual authors can also use iBooks Author to develop and publish their own books, but they will then be in charge of marketing the title to the target audience.

iBooks textbooks provide students with highlighting, note-taking, searching, definitions, lesson reviews and study cards.

Apple also announced an iTunesU app that supports teachers in creating courses using iBookstore and the Apple App Store. This enables Apple to have a role in the creation of textbooks through iBooks Author, to distribute them through partnerships with publishers, and to integrate them into courses supporting the teachers and educational administrators who are responsible for delivering education to their students. Online resources such as Khan Academy's video lectures will still provide assistance to the overall education process.

Google and Microsoft will likely follow suit at some point, creating an ecosystem for education based on their platforms. Apple has focused on education for decades, but this could give the company a significant lead in the mobile education market.

What will be really exciting is to see what extent Apple's introduction of its mobile educational ecosystem (iBooks Author, iBookstore, relationship with publishers and iTunes U app) will have on the educational process.

I commend Apple for creating this exciting environment for education. I can't wait to see some of the great interactive iBooks textbooks that educational textbook authors and publishers create using these new tools.

I suspect that we'll see the definition of "learning" altered over the coming years to be more about being able to ask good questions and finding answers and less about remembering facts and figures. Students used to have to do the math by hand in tests and memorize dates in history, but now they are allowed to use calculators. Before too long, tests will be given on tablets like the iPad, and students will have the ability to find the answers without having to pick up a pencil.


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