It’s official: Apple’s attempt to revolutionise the textbook industry has ‘succeeded’.

Just three days in, more than 350,000 textbooks have been downloaded via iBookstore – and iBooks Author has been downloaded 90,000 times.

In fact, over the course of a single weekend Apple has established “a very strong following with authors, publishers, faculty and students and may capture 95% of digital textbook market.”

All this is according to Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at a company called
Global Equities Research. His numbers are based on a “proprietary tracking tool”
for which no further information is provided, so what’s there to be
skeptical about?

It’s not as if the analyst behind this has ever stated
anything questionable, like a prediction that Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer would give a speech at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.
Oh wait – as Edible Apple notes, he did!

Yet if you glance at Techmeme, you’ll notice that Chowdhry’s
unsubstantiated claims are being repeated verbatim as if they were truth, raising the
question: are tech bloggers the most gullible people in the world?

Is it possible that Apple will revolutionise the textbook industry?
Anything is possible. And if you’re into betting, you could do far worse
than to put your money on Apple. But let’s get real.

We won’t know if
Apple’s textbook initiative has legs for quite some time. After all, a
number of things must happen, including the following:

  • Tablets will need far greater penetration in the student market. Right
    now, there number of students in the US far exceeds the number of
    tablets.
  • More titles will need to be available in digital form. The number of
    textbooks in use at schools far exceeds the number (eight) available
    right now in the iBookstore.
  • Schools and faculty will need to establish standards and programs around
    digital textbooks to fuel adoption.
    The idea of selling directly to
    parents and students is a nice one, but the reality is that, at the K-12
    levels, textbooks must be approved for use and provided to students by
    the schools.

Worth noting here is that Apple’s textbook initiative is initially
targeting the high school market. It’s a big, complex and political
market to be sure, but not nearly as big, complex and political as the
higher education market.

It’s unclear how Chowdhry can claim that Apple
is likely to capture 95% of the “digital textbook market”, leaving 5% to
Amazon.com, while completely ignoring Barnes & Noble, which has a strong
foothold in the university market as the operator of hundreds of the
largest university bookstores in the US.

With all this considered, even if some 350,000 textbooks have been
downloaded in three days, it doesn’t take much common sense to deduce
that most of these downloads were driven by curiosity; high schools did
not obviously go on a weekend binge of dead tree textbook burning so
that students could return on Monday to an iPad-centric learning
environment. As Edible Apple also notes, one of the eight textbooks
available for download that received heavy promotion at Apple’s
announcement has a free sample download available. Chowdhry’s figures
don’t apparently break out how many of these 350,000 downloads were free
versus paid.

As for iBooks Author, 90,000 reported downloads means very little
because to succeed in disrupting the textbook market, Apple doesn’t even
need 90,000 iBooks Author downloads. A relative handful of publishing
companies dominate the textbook market, and as I noted, publishers, not
authors, will be doing the actual composition of the books. Apparently,
it’s lost on tech bloggers that textbook authors do not design their own books.

At the end of the day, I doubt that anyone at Apple would today proclaim
to the world that iBooks 2 has achieved success in less than a week. So overeager tech
bloggers looking for a superlative-laced story (preferably involving
Apple) have to settle for meaningless, unsubstantiated numbers
promulgated by analysts who have every incentive to promote themselves
by making headline-friendly claims.

Maybe this is a sign for some tech bloggers to look behind the curtain and report on what is actually happening instead of being Apple’s PR machine.