What the iPad Means for Textbooks, Maybe
A publisher and students weigh in on the next big thing
Most students are all too familiar with the depressing practice of dropping hundreds of dollars for a half dozen textbooks. Now, however, thanks to the availability of e-books and iPads, they can begin to imagine the day that 400-page chemistry textbook can be had for half the current price. And it will no longer weigh as much as an anchor.
Fans of the e-book watched closely on Wednesday, when Apple introduced its much-anticipated iPad, which aims directly at the less flashy Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. In theory at least, the iPad threatens to do to book and magazine publishing what the iPod did to recorded music.
What does that mean for textbooks? Plenty, some observers say, but no one knows when. CourseSmart, a publisher of more than 8,800 e-textbooks, already makes an application for theiPhone and iPod Touch and is reportedly working on software for the iPad. And one option that is already available is iBooks, an application fromApple that allows users to download e-books straight to their device.HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, both publishers of trade books,are already signed on. Some technology Web sites have reported that apartnership with textbook publisher McGraw-Hill was supposed tohave been included in the presentation, but Apple’s Steve Jobs banned any mention of them aftera McGraw-Hill executive leaked word of the deal on Tuesdaynight. Jobs, for his part, mentioned that his company was “very excited” about textbooks, then moved on.
Some observers point out that Princeton University introduced a Kindle pilot program, in May 2009, and students were slow to warm up. Many found the experience “clunky and slow.” Despite that unimpressive start for e-books on campus, the National Association of College Stores predicts that by 2012, 10 to 15 percent of college-store textbook sales could be digital, up from the present 2 to 3 percent.
At Barnes & Noble at BU, the popularity of e-books is definitely trending up, according to store general manager Steve Turco, who he expects numbers to grow as publishers get on board and make more options available.
The iPad’s greater interactive and graphics capabilities, when compared to Kindle or Nook, make it a likely best of class for textbooks whose work requires calculations and presentations. And because this is Apple we’re talking about, it’s also a lot prettier and more user-friendly than the competition: the keyboard is right on the screen and the finger replaces the mouse.
There’s no word yet on what downloaded textbooks might sell for, but a typical precalculus e-book on CourseSmart goes for about $60. The same book costs $165 in a bookstore. One catch, though: with the e-textbook, the user buys a 180-day license, while a paper book is a paper book forever and can be resold to next year’s students or a used book store.
David Pallai, a Metropolitan College lecturer in the book and magazine publishing certificate program and a publisher at Jones and Bartlett Publishers, says there are good reasons for the high costs of textbooks. They require research and extensive edits to ensure accuracy, he says, they are often printed in color, and they must be shipped and marketed.
Pallai says his industry is unafraid and even excited about the options available in digital publishing.
“Publishers are anxious to digitize content,” he says. “It’s a way to reach customers directly, and it will have a positive effect because we won’t be spending as much money on manufacturing the book. I think over time this will save everyone a lot of money.”
He doesn’t think the iPad’s cost (it starts at $499) will deter students from buying it. In the long run, he thinks, the e-text way will be cheaper than buying paper textbooks. Despite the math, he doesn’t believe that printed books are going anywhere soon, although over time, he says, more people will turn to the Web for their reading.
In the immediate wake of the iPad splash, many students seem less than hooked. Grace Ko (COM’13) says she’s not ready for entirely digital reading. “I want things tangibly in my hand,” she says. “I’d rather be able to write on it and interact with it more closely.” Ko says she can do that with a paper book.
Samantha Dubois (COM’12) agrees. “I guess if I already owned it I would maybe use it for textbooks, but it doesn’t seem to do much that my laptop doesn’t already do,” she says. “I’d rather have the physical book in front of me, because it would be easier to annotate and highlight.”
Amy Laskowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments