As we speak, Apple is showcasing in New York City its new iBooks 2 platform, alongside its new wonderfully immersive Textbooks. In one respect, I’ve been wondering when this would happen in the education space. Nevermind the green side of the equation (less trees being turned into pulp), there are wonderful improvements in terms of economies of scale, faster production, and updated editions (not to mention a/v integration) that promises to revolutionize the way we learn.
So, aside from the fact that my kids will laugh at me when I tell them that I had to walk 4 miles (OK…more like 1/4) uphill each way carrying my 40 pound bag full of heavy textbooks while they tote their one pound tablets around, why is my natural inclination to think about the (im)practicalities of this emerging trend?
The education market is obviously divided into two very distinct segments: University and K-12. In a university context, I think this could be revolutionary. Take it one step further and you could see individual universities create their own BookStore (a.k.a. private AppStore) where students, once registered in classes, automatically get a list of required books and other materials that are relevant to the class. The days of waiting in exhaustively long lines at the campus bookstore are soon gone.
There are some pragmatic issues however, even in this scenario. I gest when I suggest that gone will be the days when a poor college student will be able to either buy used books or sell their books back at the end of the semester for beer money. (Oh please….like you never did that.) Sure, one hopes that the huge biology text book that cost me almost $100 20 years ago will cost significantly less than its current $200 price tag (my kids are going to trade school, by the way). But how low will the price be? $100? $50? What about when a student registers for a class, buys the book and then decides to drop the class? What is the return policy? Will I ever be able to borrow a book again from a classmate? It doesn’t appear to be the case.
The point however in the higher education market is that there are going to be some very compelling reasons to shift to “modern” eBooks…I do think however, that just like in the regular app environment (because that’s all they are in fact), we’re going to have to think about proprietary (i.e. non public) application distribution and management. Don’t forget, a University is nothing more than its own workplace with thousands of people in the community.
Let’s switch to the K-12 arena. iTunes shows me that McGraw-Hill is offering a high school chemistry book for $14.99. That’s obviously significantly less than the price of a University book, but since when are the students required to buy their textbooks? (For the record, I have no idea what the process is now, but I would assume that kids still aren’t required to buy their own study materials in K-12) Let’s assume that k-12 students still get their books from their school. Does the Apple VPP program apply here? How will it work? Don’t forget that the VPP program would suggest that the student would own the books and not the school. I’m sure local school superintendents with their meager budgets would be thrilled with that. Let’s not forget the linchpin of this new iBook 2 program.
Apple’s end goal, just like with iTunes, is to sell more iPads. It’s looking to repeat the wonderful success it has had with iPods and iPhones via music and apps. How many families can afford to buy multiple iPads for their children? Let’s say your family can’t afford to buy an iPad, are you not going to get an education? Obviously not. Is the school going to have to provide you an iPad? If that is the case, this begs for schools to manage and secure those tablets to ensure that our younglings aren’t doing (or seeing) anything deemed “inappropriate.” (making the case for enterprise mobility management in K-12) That will also open up a can of worms from insane/angry parents vs. school committees.
So at the end of this missive, I have more questions than answers. I have no doubt that iBooks 2, and its competition will revolutionize the way people learn. I just fear that the industry may not be fully ready for its implications.