Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If They Use These Names, I Want Royalties

A quick run-down of the numbers as they currently stand, ladies and gents: about 70% of you think that Macmillan won the first round of what will soon come to be known as the First Battle of E-Book Run; 20% of you think neither Macmillan nor Amazon won; and the remaining 10% of you voted for either Amazon (around 7%) or "Other."


As was mentioned in yesterday's comments, however (thanks, Bron!), there is one major player whose motives and strategy we have yet to discuss: Apple.

The computer company is pushing for an agency model that will 1.) help them undermine the tremendous market share that Amazon currently holds in the e-book universe and 2.) allow them to participate in the market while actually turning a profit. While some have questioned the wisdom of the iPad device (and in many instances, rightly so), I think there's a market that is being seriously overlooked by various critics. One that involves young eyes that have grown up on and are unafraid of backlit screens. One that involves diagrams and photographs that come to life in brilliant color. One that involves one of the biggest rackets in the industry.

Textbooks. (Or, as I like to call them, Nextbooks™. See title of post.)

Yesterday, Apple Insider reported that publishers have tapped ScrollMotion to help develop textbook applications for the iPad. Personally, I think this genius. If Apple moves to develop applications for textbooks quickly and manages to shut other e-readers (black-and-white dedicated devices like the Kindle, Sony's e-reader, the soon-to-come Skiff and Que) out of the market, they're golden. Maybe they'll even make a model aimed at the educational market (the ePad™*?) equipped with only the basics and priced even more affordably than the current models. Apple makes bank, textbook publishers make bank, and school districts save a lot of money in the long run.

What do you think, gentle authors? Does Apple secretly (or not-so-secretly) have its sights set on the e-textbook market? Will it, like the music industry and the shiny-things-I-can't-afford industry, soon be in their spotless white pocket?

*Again, see title of post.


  1. I think any e-book reader provider that doesn't have its eye on the textbook market is short-sighted in the extreme. We all know the money isn't in the $4.99 paperback or providing a hardback for $9.99 as a digital version.

    No, the real money is in the $150 physics textbook Joe Smith needs for college. That's where Apple will shine. Once you add in interactivity, fugetaboutit.

  2. If i was going into college, I would ask for an iPad for graduation. It will save students money on textbooks, especially if they have a renting system and be a great tool to have in classes. I know people are complaining that it isn't multifunctional, but in a classroom it is perfect. Most of my classes didn't allow laptops because students could be online or playing games, but on this, they are taking notes or looking at their textbooks. Good for Apple for finding a way into the market that other eReaders seem to ignore.

  3. I agree. Everyone is ignoring Apple in the mix. I think they're the real reason Amazon pulled the move they did. For the first time, there is a real threat to their market share.

    As for what Apple can add to e-book attractiveness. I completely agree. In fact, I wrote a blog about this exact thing last week.

  4. Oh, heck yes. Apple has always been aggressive about hooking users at a tender age.

  5. In the early days of the PC when IBM and other companies were going after the business markets, Apple became solvent and somewhat successful by moving aggressively into the education markets.

    Jobs is using this same strategy by moving into textbooks.

  6. Eric:

    You nailed it. I worked as a rep in textbook publishing and the students PREFERRED eBooks to actual text. For one thing, they never had to use an old fashioned index. Search for the term they want and link straight to it in the text.

    Animations were provided for complicated concepts. We bandied about the term "kinesthetic learning" quite a bit even though it wasn't quite accurate, but being able to visualize and hear a description at the same time used more than one learning pathway and the instructors loved that.

    Plus, for the publisher the eBooks were much easier to edit. If someone uncovered a mistake in the text it couldn't be corrected until the next print run but with the eVersion it was updated immediately. On an intraweb a text or supplemental program could be provided with the right multiple user license, as well.

    Apple has always been aggressive in the education market and they also look to where the future buyers will be to get them brand loyal early. And you're also right that current students aren't turned off by backlit screens and prefer color.

  7. I think having iPad textbooks would be convenient, but they'd be kind of useless if you have an openbook test and they are likely to get stolen. You couldn't really take notes with it exactly. It would be convenient as a college student, but it would be better outside of school than using it as a text book. They'd be great for elementary, middle, and high schools though, but I can see those things getting damaged and/or stolen. In theory, they are a really good idea but it would take some fine tuning to make it school-friendly.

  8. iPads would ahve to be pretty durable. Textbooks take alot of beating..

  9. Wow, computer problems just ate a rather expansive post. Here's the truncated version. Education saved Apple when it couldn't save itself. It will not overlook that industry now that it's more successful.

    It is not a question of IF educational publishing is going this way. It is. That was decided years ago. While trade publishing may be scared of the ebook revolution, educational publishing doesn't just want it, it yearns for it. This is the future of educational publishing whether students want it or not.

  10. Absolutely. As another commenter noted, anyone in the e-publishing playpen would be a fool not to have their sights firmly planted on textbooks at some point. Thousands and thousands are to be made in the academic arena.

    Speaking of the iPad, I can't think of it without thinking of this article I read recently about the status privilege of Apple. I am reminded also that Apple was the company used by my own school districts years ago when they first began implementing computers.

  11. @Kate: Oh much more than thousands (sorry if you were being facetious; I am replying seriously on the lack of emoticons). The top higher education publisher by itself represents a multi-billion dollar yearly gross. Account for the top five and you're looking at scads and scads of money. Even if Apple just capitalizes on hardware sales, they're looking at 9-figure revenues from the textbook market.

    In 2007, freshman at Duke University received free iPods so they could listen to class lectures. Other schools followed suit. It's a recruiting tool and the same will be done with the iPad when/if the cost comes down.

    Not only do ebooks eliminate PP&B, but they eliminate used books, which means all books are purchased new. Pearson can replace its Penguin logo with Scrooge McDuck swimming through his gold coins. Its profits will be obscene.

  12. damnit! Having etextbooks would have been awesomesauce when i was still in school.

  13. Follow the money. Probably Apple's plan.

    I'm beginning to have fun watching the skirmishes.

  14. E-textbooks are coming, for sure. Speaking as a college student, they're tempting for several reasons: they're cheaper, and they're physically lighter to carry back and forth on buses/trains/etc. I do like to take margin notes in my textbooks, and I'm sure that technology will make margin notes possible in e-textbooks soon, if it isn't already happening.

    However, I'm guessing I'll have graduated before e-textbooks become widely used in universities. I'll enjoy my paper books while they last. They do smell nicer than the electronic versions, and they don't strain my eyes.

  15. Speaking as someone currently using paper-based textbooks, I prefer them. I know textbooks are expensive as all get out, but I still don't feel comfortable enough with e-technology to really want to use one of those for a math class or something like that. I think I'd take a book over an e-file in the coursework department.

  16. I would have loved e-textbooks while at school. My school didn't have lockers so we had to lug all our textbooks home with us every night. Having one device to keep them all on would have been much kinder on my back.

    Anyway, as others have pointed out, Apple would be mad not to move into the goldmine that is educational textbooks. The instant updates are particularly attractive, both from a publisher and consumer perspective.

  17. The future of textbooks and all kind of non-fiction publication will be interesting. And e-readers will play a significant if not the key role there. And Apple has huge potential there - providing their devices support mobile connections.

    I don't believe that textbooks will be published as static e-books. What I predict is that they will be published as somekind of combination of local content and online updates. Users will buy a user license for the database which they then download for offline use. The e-readers will have 3G connection (and in couple of years 4G, at least here in Europe) and will constantly check if there are updates available. Could also be that the textbooks will become completly online versions, esp. if the mobile networks will get good speeds (again, that is what's happening in Europe).

    I worked for a bookstore which serviced the academic and medical business sector when CD-ROMs did their break-through. After the publishers got their pricing structure right, the printed publications disappeared practically overnight. After two-three years the same happened with online versions: CD-ROM versions disappeared after the online version pricing structure was correct and universities, hospitals, medical companies etc. got fast internet connections.