In January Apple sent shock waves throughout the publishing world with the debut of iBooks 2 for iPad and the new Textbooks section of the iTunes Store. Three of the top textbook publishers: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt were proclaimed to be committed to the platform and the iTunes Store was stocked with eight titles ready for distribution at a loss-leader price of $14.95.
As if that were not enough, Apple also announced and demonstrated iBooks Author, a free application for creating electronic textbooks for the iPad. Several stylish templates come pre-installed, making it easy to quickly build a beautiful and polished document by dragging and dropping content such as Pages or Word documents, Keynote presentations, 3D models or movies into place.
The glow of the free authoring application and the low-cost titles is tempered by the fact that content creation and consumption are confined to Apple hardware. iBooks textbooks can only be viewed on an iPad and iBooks Author runs only on Apple computers with Mac OS 10.7.2 or later.
Apple has also imposed constraints on the distribution of the finished textbooks. Unless the iBook is being given away for free, it can only be distributed through Apple’s iTunes Store. After about a week of public confusion regarding the interpretation of this stipulation of the end user license agreement, Apple clarified that this rule is meant to apply only to the iBooks-formatted document while the content elements in the textbook remain the author’s intellectual property to be distributed in any other format they may choose.
Over a month has passed since Apple’s press event and the Textbook section of the iTunes Store no longer flaunts the “new” badge, but the small number of textbooks for sale (10) stands in stark comparison to the hundreds upon hundreds of titles available from other retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Regardless, the democratization of textbook publishing has undeniable appeal. Kristin Burr, Associate Professor at Saint Joseph’s University states:
From an instructor’s perspective, the possibility of authoring your own iBook is an exciting opportunity. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to create your own text for each and every class you were teaching, but having a template and a simple method of publishing the iBook makes it possible to develop and organize material and to reuse it. I’m currently working on revamping FRE 201 by using interviews with French-speakers from the area as my primary material, and I’d love to explore the features of the iBooks Author app, since I’m essentially writing a new textbook that’s designed specifically for SJU students.