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A few hours ago Apple held its much-anticipated education event in New York City, and as expected, announced a new offering that seeks to reinvent the textbook around the iPad.

Seeking to make textbooks more interactive, more durable, more searchable and more easily refreshable, iBooks 2 offers a "new textbook experience for the iPad." And boy is it pretty.

But putting looks aside, there is one big question everybody will be asking in the coming hours and days: does iBooks 2 really have the potential to revolutionise the textbook, making Apple the future of education in the process? The answer: probably not.

There are several key problems with iBooks 2:

  • Not every student can afford an iPad, and schools are broke. The iPad is an incredible device for students, and 1.5m iPads are currently used in education. But not every parent can shell out hundreds of dollars or pounds for an iPad, and not every school has the funds to equip their students with them. Dead trees aren't dead, and cheaper tablet devices (likely based on Android) will have a big role in this market.
  • iBooks 2 harks back to the CD-ROM era. Make no mistake about it, Apple is not "reinventing" the textbook. Rather, it is trying to take us back to the future, specifically the 1990s when interactive CD-ROMs were the next big thing in education. iBooks Author, which is used to compose iBooks 2 titles, is little more than HyperCard for the e-book/mobile app generation.
  • iBooks 2 won't really make textbooks less expensive. This isn't about greed. Apple taking a double-digit percentage cut of gross revenue increases pressure on margins, and authoring interactive content is not cheap. The output from the iBooks 2 authoring process isn't reusable anywhere else (as in, you can't sell an iBooks 2 title through non-Apple channels), producing a less-than-optimal investment scenario for publishers.
  • Publishers already offer app-like versions of textbooks. Initial textbook publishers on board for launch are Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This is for good reason: being seen as jumping on the Apple bandwagon is usually a good thing. But it's worth noting that most of these publishers already offer app-like interactive versions of their textbooks directly to schools. In some cases, their licenses for schools cost less than the texbooks in the new section of the iBookstore, which are $14.99. Selling app-like versions, whether through Apple or other channels, is only possible of course because of the revenue from physical textbooks. So if iBooks 2 (or any other digital format) killed off the hardcover textbook, producing these apps and selling them on the cheap at a profit would be impossible.
  • Apple doesn't seem to understand publishing. During its announcement, Apple kept referring to the fact that authors themselves can create interactive titles using iBooks Author, which is available for free download. But the authors of textbooks published by the big publishers don't compose their textbooks - the publishers do. Pointing this out may seem like nit-picking, but it hints at a fundamental naivety about the textbook publishing process on Apple's part.
  • Apple is but one channel.  iBooks 2 is specific to one channel/device - the iPad. An important channel to be sure, but publishing is a multichannel world. It's hard to see the education industry standardising in any meaningful way around Apple hardware and software, meaning that publishers will be certainly be investing in making sure their content is available through all emerging channels, such as Android-based tablets.

At the end of the day, Apple's success with iBooks 2 will not be based on how "gorgeous" the texbooks on the iPad can be. It will be based on the ROI it delivers to publishers.

The iPad is an attractive channel for textbook publishers (as it is to all publishers) but you aren't going to see major textbook publishers putting their eggs in one basket.

From a pure product standpoint, iBooks 2 may be impressive, but from a commercial perspective, in a few years it will probably still be remembered as one of Steve Jobs' last pet projects.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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Rich

This doesnt seem entirely feasible. Up until this point I've always disregarded the view that Apple are trying to take over the world, but after reading this I am swayed a little.

over 4 years ago

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Ben

In a perfect would this would be amazing, just being able to simply see the reaction in a chemistry book or solve maths problems right on the screen. But at the end of the day it all comes down to money and sadly there isn't a lot free these days : /

over 4 years ago

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Benoit

This reminds me a little of the iAD announcement: new interactive ads, awesome authoring tools, everyone would want to play with them, etc.

Now, you are betting against a company with incredible talent and a long string of successes. Everything you say about iBooks 2, you could have said about apps (CDROM vs. open internet, Apple's cut, development costs for just one channel)... You may want to hedge your bets ;-)

over 4 years ago

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AppleFUD

Apple is trying to catch up to other ebook providers. There isn't really anything new here other than their slick packaging and marketing. . . well, and of course their typical lockin strategy.

Honestly, this is the MOST sickening thing I've seen from apple yet--you are locked into selling ONLY via iBooks if you use their tools to create an ebook? WTF????? And it can ONLY be read on an ipad?!?!?! GTFO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I could see them using their tool for a proprietary iBook format and then allow it to export in an open format without as many bells and whistles, but lockin to iBooks ONLY is you use apple's "free" tools?

Seriously, any publisher that thinks this is a good ideas really need to seek medical attention because they can't think.

Get real. What, only 0.06% of the population have an ipad? Yeah, this will reach the "masses" to help educations. . . NOT!

over 4 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

This is key:
"It's hard to see the education industry standardising in any meaningful way around Apple hardware and software"

And I had to cringe at the following statement in their presentation:

""But we want to make sure that anyone can use this — even teachers. New iBooks Author will be free.""

Yeah, right, only if you have an Apple iPhone or Mac :-(

over 4 years ago

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Call me Crazy

Android should make an app that reads iBook files... haha so that you can just steal those books HAHAHA crazy, yea i know. imma genius

over 4 years ago

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