Reinvention of the Textbook
Recently Apple made three announcements of new or updated technologies: “iBook Author,” “GarageBand for eBooks,” and fundamental changes to iTunes U. These solutions, put together, are designed to be an end‑to‑end solution for the interactive eBook publisher—create, organize, and publish.
Publishing companies have been delivering e-textbooks for a couple years. So, what makes this announcement special? Before that question is answered, let’s consider the current state of eBook publishing.
Recent Pew Research data was released that tablet and eBook reader ownership nearly doubled over Christmas—from 10‑19%. This means that 1 in 5 people now have the capability to consume eBooks and this number will only stand to exponentially grow as the market drives down cost and features and functionality goes up.
Most of the books published for these eBooks are static texts with photos and images, distributed using a proprietary reader or app (i.e. nook, Kindle, XanEdu, Pearson e-text, etc.). For the most part, these proprietary eBook readers are controlled by the publisher and vary in their functionality. The early versions were pretty hard to do more than just read—great for the novel, not so good for the textbook or manuscript. However, over the past year the user experience has improved in most of the readers by adding the ability to highlight, make notations, underline, etc. Some have added bonus features that include the ability to export the highlights, notes, etc. into a separate document—making review of important material much easier.
So what makes Apple’s announcement so significant? I believe that these products, and others like them, will do to the textbook publishing industry what desktop publishing (DTP) did to the print shop industry the in the late 1980’s. The printing industry was the only game in town up to this time. If you wanted a professional looking multicolumn document that included graphics and multiple typefaces, you took your content to the printer. They were expensive and the processing time was consuming. However, once the tools became available to the masses, folks started creating their own documents. While the layout quality wasn’t great in the beginning, it improved over the next 5 or 6 years. The artistic and technical expertise to handle most DTP tasks became wide‑spread. Now the capability is built‑into every standard word processor.
In the same way, these tools are putting the ability to create and publish rich, interactive content without a publisher. In all likelihood, some of the early releases will not be as high quality as a professional publisher, but as the tools improve and the user experience improves, the output will get much better; and I don’t believe that it will take 5-6 years as it did in the 90’s.
Is this a game changer? For the most part, the game has just begun. Things are changes rapidly and it’s hard to specifically predict where the end will be. But the game plan has changed and is forcing us to think about new ways to deliver all kinds of content that can improve the student, customer, or end‑user experience.
Will there be a place for the publisher or will they go the way of the horse and buggy? The printing industry continues to provide high‑end solutions and design expertise that we still pay top dollar for. The publishing industry will continue to provide high‑quality, design expertise, but just like DTP, music and movie production, and many other jobs once reserved for the professional, the tools are now available to the masses—the consumer.
Are there other applications for these tools? Is it only for an e-textbook creation? Hardly, we now have new ways of delivering electronic course packs, user manuals, training documents, and orientation materials. In fact, I see these areas gaining the most traction in the immediate future because the content is fairly discrete and not as dense as a textbook.
Just like the iPhone changed the game for the smartphone and the iPad nearly eliminated the NetBook industry, now “Publishing for Everyone.” Is the iPhone the best phone out there, some would say yes and others no, but no one can deny that there would be no Droid phone if there wasn’t an iPhone first. In the same way, this consumerization of eBook publishing is a start. Look for many other technology companies like Adobe, Google, and others to come out with their tools.
What was once reserved only for the professional, is now available to the you and me, if you own a Mac, for now. So let the publishing begin.