Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why the iPad really could change everything

Assuming the iPad is a successful product--not a given based on early reactions--this looks like a product that could finally bring textbooks into the web 2.0 world. Not because the iBooks functionality is particularly advanced. An eBook reader is an eBook reader, and all eBook readers are Web 1.0, as I have mentioned in previous posts. The iPad has not, at first blush anyway, seriously moved the game forward. You're still reading a flat page on a highly interactive mechanism, and you're still not taking much advantage of "the crowd."

But the iPad has huge possibilities in the textbook arena nonetheless, in my view. There are two reasons for this, neither of which were part of the hoopla of the grand unveiling: iTunes, and EPUB. The iBookstore may not seem like an advance over Amazon for buying books--how could it compete with that megalith? But the promise is not in the transaction, it's in the transformation. Don't forget what iTunes did to the music industry. It deconstructed the CD, the decades of "album" sales, and brought the single back to the forefront of music. Consumers loved it. Publishers... well, not so much. The promise is that Apple will move the textbook publishing industry in that direction as well, selling chunks, or chapters, or just the media associated with a textbook--whatever is of value to students or faculty within a textbook. Is that their plan? Yes, it is. How do I know this? Because of EPUB.

EPUB is an open standard for eBooks. Kindle's is proprietary, as are most of its competitors. Imagine this for a moment... Apple, the undisputed king of the vertical integration, the company that owns the hardware and the operating system and the software, is using open standards for its eBooks. Why is that? Why would they do that? Because they know that in the textbook publishing world, there is as yet no such thing as a "single." The textbook is the equivalent of a CD, or an album. That's easy--they're big, they're expensive, and you're always buying more than you want in order to get the stuff you do want. But what is the parallel to the song? It's not a chapter, because a chapter typically can't stand alone. The answer is, it doesn't exist. But it could exist. There could easily be a digital something that is designed to meet a certain clearly defined learning objective. Several of these somethings could be strung together into a "playlist" that assisted greatly in meeting course learning objectives. And if several publishers were publishing these somethings, these "singles," then a course "playlist" could include singles from Macmillan as well as ones from Pearson.

I think Apple gets this. I further think they're wise enough to know that they can't invent or create these singles themselves. They can transform the textbook industry with iBooks the way iTunes transformed the music industry, but only if they get a lot of help with the songs. Thus, the open standard... they will use a technical platform that anyone can adopt. Do a deal with Macmillan, sure, but leave the door open for the future-thinkers at Pearson to create something that will be a game changer.

I like what Apple has done. I like it a lot.

Article from MacWorld:

No comments:

Post a Comment