Apple unveils iBooks 2 (textbooks) and iBooks Author

Apple unveils iBooks 2 (textbooks) and iBooks Author

The iPad was a huge, unqualified success.

iBooks wasn’t.

While the Agency Model the iBooks engendered flipped the business, it didn’t seem like Apple was turning that into book vendor success for themselves (which wasn’t necessarily their primary goal with that move anyway).

I’ve always felt that Apple had a period in their history where having gotten lots of computers into schools (especially universities) enabled them to survive…and later to dominate.

At the time, local government offices didn’t really have their own computers much, or at least didn’t do significant computing. They would turn to universities to do things for them. The universities had free Apple computers, so the local governments got the same. People who had to interact significantly with the government (like lawyers) matched that.

I was teaching WordPerfect to lawyers long after Microsoft Word had the lion’s share of the word processing market.

Steve Jobs had (correctly, I think) identified the textbook industry as one “ripe for digital destruction” (as allegedly reported in a recent biography).

A college student spending a thousand dollars for potentially outdated books that they would resell later (and that would be resold several times) wasn’t unusual.

That was a daunting model for a lot of families.

Now, Apple is reinventing iBooks to bring you textbooks:

Of course, the textbooks will look and be cool, be interactive, be cutting edge, be user friendly (including for highlighting, notes, and instant review cards), and work smoothly…all hallmarks of Apple.

What about that other hallmark of Apple? Higher price for superior quality?

I’m seeing news stories mentioning $14.99 as a price.

Fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents for a textbook.

Now, we need a whole lot more data on this. Yes, some of the high price of paper textbooks had to do with that resale factor…publishers and authors aren’t compensated for those secondary sales, so they have to be built into the base price.

Textbooks are also relatively expensive to produce because you need to pay experts who can take a long time to produce a chapter. The number of pictures and other images is high, and those are expensive to produce (even digital delivery has a cost based on size of the file).

I sincerely hope that this transforms the textbook business…although that would be bad news for chiropractors. 😉

Amazon…well, not exactly promised, but suggested, that there would be a digital textbook revolution when they announced the Kindle DX, and they had partnered with major textbook publishers.

Some of those same publishers are partnering with Apple on iBooks 2.

I’m going to go through this more thoroughly. One ironic and frustrating thing: I wanted to watch the video they’ve done about the textbooks…but this computer doesn’t have QuickTime (an Apple video viewer) on it, so it asked me to install that. I did…and it still won’t work. I may need to restart before it does. That’s illustrative of Apple keeping it inside the fence. They couldn’t give me a Flash option? HTML 5?

Amazon, by the way, has been working on more interactive books like this, but this announcement Bigfoots what they’ve done with textbooks…including their rental program.

I’m sure that paper textbooks are about to fall off a cliff (they are just so expensive and appear increasingly impractical in a digital world). My feeling is that a key component of that industry in the future will be topic-specific e-texts. Rather than paying $200 for a book that covers a semester, you pay $20 for an individual topic. That makes it much more affordable and easier to produce. I’m presuming these Apple books and Amazon interactive books will be huge files. I doubt you are going to be putting ten of them at a time on a mobile device. One topic from ten different classes? That seems more possible.

The other big book/publishing related announcement was iBooks Author

This is their independent publishing app…and does things that could greatly benefit Kindle Direct Publishing.

At Amazon, you build your book yourself…Amazon basically has nothing to do with that part.

With this app (from the Apple Appstore), you drag adn drop, add interactive elements, and so on. Important to many: that include VoiceOver (text-to-speech) support  After you build the book, you can publish it…and you can make it available for free.

Amazon needs to get something like this in their store. Even though Amazon hasn’t developed this kind of software before, they could.

They need something that automatically puts in an interactive Table of Contents, uses formatting that works (so we don’t get books with those question marks in them for characters), makes endnotes work properly, inserts chapter marks, makes doing a cover image easy…the whole thing.

There already is software that can help people write a novel…that could be made available as well (I’m not saying that one would be free).

Again, I need to read more about this. Apple doing these things will drive Amazon to do more…a good thing.

One more piece:

Though I wouldn’t say it is being emphasized, the social nature of iPads will clearly be part of the textbook strategy. Can’t be in the classroom? FaceTime your teacher right in the book. Your study group? In ten different countries. Want to know if your students are getting it? Poll them.

I am pleased with this announcement, although the Agency Model has me suspicious about what might be behind the scenes I just haven’t discovered yet. They have a lot of trust to recover with serious readers over that…but that doesn’t mean that I won’t applaud good things they do.

What do you think about all this? Surveys have indicated that students haven’t been crazy about e-textbooks…will this change that? Is Apple’s publishing too insular, or not different from Amazon in that regard? Does this bootstrap the general interest iBooks store? Will you use it as an author/publisher? How do you think Amazon should respond, if they should at all?

Feel free to let me know what you think about it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

17 Responses to “Apple unveils iBooks 2 (textbooks) and iBooks Author”

  1. Tom Semple Says:

    I’m deeply skeptical that this will work, it seems quite utopian or panglossian at best, and quite possibly a cynical attempt on Apple’s part to sell iPads, but it is certainly interesting.

    First of all, it requires everyone to get an iPad. That in itself should not be a requirement. Our educational institutions should be platform neutral in adopting technology. Will there be an iBooks app for Android, for Windows, or even for OS X? Apparently not. Will this content be readable with any ePub3 reading system (once these exist)? Maybe, but given Apple’s proprietary iBooks features, don’t count on it.

    This is in addition to the obligatory laptop that students will still need to have. Instructors can only assign textbooks that are available in iBooks. It won’t do to have 50% of the textbooks on iPad and the rest conventional textbooks. What happens when my iPad breaks, or is lost or stolen? I won’t be able to study until I replace it.

    Somebody has to create the textbooks. There’s a reason textbooks are so expensive. Such specialized content requires a high level of expertise, and extensive editorial review, and with no economies of scale. Now with the additional ‘requirement’ that textbooks need to be larded up with interactivity or students won’t read them. You aren’t going to get that for $14.99.

    I don’t think there is any evidence that suggest that learning is enhanced in any way by having interactive books. To the extent that interactivity substitutes for substance, it may even detract from learning. The problem with textbooks is not that they are boring and heavy to carry around, and just need a little juicing up with video to maintain interest. But learning requires focussed attention, and at least my experience with multimedia books is that they feed attention deficit.

    The Author app looks great, and I will be downloading it right away! But by the same token, most people do not have adequate design skills. Again, lower costs may come at the expense of mass quantities of poorly reviewed and formatted content.

    I’m much more hopeful about the prospects for ‘open source’ textbooks, even if they are just boring PDF files or even wiki pages. Teachers (and their students) can collaboratively develop functional and useful content, include ‘interactive’ features when and where appropriate, and keep it up to date. But Apple won’t make any money on that.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Well-thought and well-written, as usual. 🙂

      Apple convinced educational institutions to buy a bunch of their hardware before. Buying iPads is less than the expenditures they’ve made in the past…but blocking the other functions is…interesting.

      I agree with you on the negative aspects of a proprietary system.

      I don’t know what kind of data we actually have on the interactivity part. There is a movement towards “gamification” of training. I can tell you from my experience: most people remember something better if learning it was fun. There is also the issue that the learner is a part of the process…if someone thinks of paperbooks as old-fashioned (which will increasingly be the case), they may enter into using a paper textbook with a non-receptive mindset. That can make first comprehension and then retention much more difficult.

      • Tom Semple Says:

        I won’t dispute that some content will be great, for some material. But I don’t think we have a one-size-fits-all solution here.

        Also, apparently content generated with iBooks Author (ePub of some flavor) can only be sold in the iBookstore. I can’t think of any precedent for this sort of restriction. Again this feeds my perception that Apple has designed this for their own enrichment first and foremost.

        I’m going to have to give them $29 to upgrade to Lion, just so I can install iBooks Author, for example. Why couldn’t it just as easily have been designed to run on Snow Leopard?

    • Goldarn Says:

      I’ll point out that Apple’s new authoring application allows saving as a PDF file in addition to the iBooks format.

      Also, a textbook made that way doesn’t need to be sold through the store. You could distribute it to students directly or via a web link. I’ve read that some people have already tested that out—click a link, download the textbook, and it opens in iBooks 2.

      Are they “open source?” No. But the app is free and the textbooks could be freely distributed. And Apple will make money on it, because schools will buy iPads and authors will buy Macs.

      And I’d speculate that it doesn’t run on Snow Leopard because its expensive to maintain software on older OSes, and you either can’t use features from the current OS or you have to back-port the OS features. Either way is a pain, which means extra cost.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Goldarn!

        Good information!

      • Tom Semple Says:

        Apparently you can install iBooks Author on SL by editing a couple of .plist files to fool App Store and then the iBA installer), and it runs fine. (I will be doing this when I have a chance.)

        Proving my point that Apple could have easily certified for 10.6, but chose not to (perhaps ‘for our own good’, but more likely to create another way to generate revenue from upgrades that people don’t actually need).

        No application publishers but Apple can afford to certify on only the latest version of OS X. The hubris of those people! But they do create some great products. I just don’t include iBooks in that category, for a variety of reasons.

      • Goldarn Says:

        “Proving my point that Apple could have easily certified for 10.6…”

        No, it didn’t. Speaking as a programmer and former tester, taking the attitude that “It works on Lion and it probably works on 10.6” isn’t safe. I also saw the post about getting it to install on 10.6, but one work day isn’t enough time to know whether or not it really works. I do hope it works for people on 10.6. People should play around with it to see what it can do, so they can intelligently suggest new features.

        Being 10.7 only may be something as simple as a director making the call to have it run on Lion to save testing time. Or maybe there’s a bug that only appears occasionally on 10.6 and wasn’t worth the cost to fix. Or, being that they *are* Apple, it could be a layout thing—someone thinks it looks better on 10.7.

        Apple has a history of making products to make money as well as change industries. All computers work pretty much like a 1984 Mac. Most new smartphones are working, more or less, like an iPhone. And, hopefully, iBooks Author will inspire people to change the textbook market forever. I certainly hope so.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Goldarn!

        Good insights! There are a lot of reasons why something might not be released for one software version over another, including that they simply haven’t tested it enough to certify it as reasonably safe and effective. I think that’s the case with the Amazon Appstore. People sometimes see it as excluding broad swathes of things for business reasons, but I think it’s more often because it hasn’t been tested. Customer Service is expensive, and if people could willy nilly download from the Android marketplace, Amazon would get a lot of Kindle Support calls about issues some apps could cause. That’s why, when you elect to install an app from “an unknown source”, you are warned that you take that responsibility.

        I’ve been a bit surprised about the strong reaction to the proprietary nature of the textbook proposal. That just shows more awareness than I would have anticipated…and how Android has made people think that their students will have other things than iPhones and iPads.

      • Tom Semple Says:

        I have installed it on 10.6 and it seems to run okay. I have no idea if everything works, and would not blame Apple if it did not. I just want to play with it, and so now I can, without spending a day upgrading to Lion and discovering some random things have broken (as they inevitably do), which would take all the fun out of it. I will probably get around to upgrading eventually.

        I’m sure they would have certified on 10.6 had they seen a revenue stream there somehow. But since this is free, all it would do is cost them development resources. The people most likely to be paying attention to iBooks Author are probably already on Lion.

        Anyway this is totally a side issue.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Tom!

        Be careful…don’t write anything you want to own in iBooks Author. 🙂 I haven’t read the EULA myself, but the reports are that if you are created it in iBooks Author, you can only sell it through Apple. You may want to read the EULA carefully before you play around with it too much.

  2. Roger Knights Says:

    Amazon needs to get something like this in their store. Even though Amazon hasn’t developed this kind of software before, they could.

    They need something that automatically puts in an interactive Table of Contents, uses formatting that works (so we don’t get books with those question marks in them for characters), makes endnotes work properly, inserts chapter marks, makes doing a cover image easy…the whole thing.

    You said it! The need for this has long been painfully apparent. Maybe Amazon figures it has so much on its plate that it has to prioritize. Or maybe there’s some Big Picture reason why they don’t want to do this, at least not yet.

    There are probably independent consulting or software firms whose software Amazon could buy and modify to catch up quickly with Apple.

  3. Gwen Says:

    If Apple can come up with a way to get me my textbooks for $14.99, I would buy an iPad in a heartbeat. I won’t hold my breath though.

    Textbook prices are insane. One book, for just one class for me this semester was almost $200 USED! I had to drop the class because of that. I get that the authors are specialized and all that, but we are talking a basic health class, not advanced rocket science.

  4. Apple unveils iBooks 2 (textbooks) and iBooks Author | How to get Free Kindle E books Says:

    […] This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← The Myth of the […]

  5. William Nyikuli Says:

    Why did others wait for Apple to be first again? The ability to highlight, clip, bookmark, and make notes on ebooks/PDFs AND have it syncable across devices is very convenient.

    Would be nice to have something like that for folks outside of the Apple ecosystem. I’m surprised someone like Google couldn’t have done this.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, William!

      It’s very hard to get into the textbook business without the existing textbook companies. That lets out some smaller organizations, which wouldn’t have the power to make the publishers feel comfortable getting into business with them.

      There is no reason Google couldn’t still get into this, and that would be better, less proprietary, I like.

  6. Man in the Middle Says:

    FWIW, the EULA drew fire here:

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      That is a staggering report from Ed Bott! The key thing is that, if you use iBooks Author and want to make any money from what you wrote, you can only distribute it through Apple and Apple can choose to distribute it or not. As they point out, that’s like Microsoft saying they own the book you wrote because you used Microsoft Word to write it. Not illegal, but astonishing.

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