Apple some way short of a full “fix”

I posted recently about the potential for Apple to really nail the e-textbook question with their might and the legacy of Jobs / iTunes / saving the music industry etc.  Of the SIX elements I suggested, they have met, partially met, or come close to, somewhere between three and four – pending interpretation.

I think locking into hardware is their biggest error – with that they may get decent revenue from 10-20% of their target demo. SURELY with more openness / or at least an open platform, they could have shot for 2-3 times that, guaranteeing better adoption and allowing for a lower price point (they have come out with $15, I proposed $10!). A step forward in some regards, but stops short of a full fix…

Apple aims to drive the use of electronic textbooks in the classroom by making it easier for publishers to create interactive titles. The company has announced a range of new tools and services which it claims will “reinvent the textbook”. Leading names in educational resources are involved, including the world’s biggest, UK-based Pearson Publishing. Apple will compete with existing offerings from Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook device. Roger Rosner, Apple’s vice president of productivity applications, demonstrated the books, some of which are now available to download, at an event in New York. Also on display was iBooks Author, a free program that will allow educators and authors to make their own interactive books for the iPad.



Can Apple “fix” textbooks?

Big announcement coming January 19th in New York City – Steve Job’s legacy to “fix” or “save” the publishing industry in the same way that he “saved” the music industry.
Those of us who gave up illegal downloading of music back in 2001-2 have fond memories of the likes of Kazaa, before people with viruses (a.k.a. Music company executives) – started to embed them in Eminem tracks… Those days seemed to have both potential and threat; a whole industry was feeling cornered, lines were drawn and the no-man’s land between was one that even Michael Morpurgo* couldn’t see a way through (* somewhat obscure reference explained below)

Then came iTunes and Jobs’ brilliance was to develop a business plan that solved a social problem and made BILLIONS of dollars for his company before anyone else saw the possibilities.
Fast forward and for Music Industry, read Publishing Industry; for expensive CDs, read (ridiculously) expensive textbooks and for 99 cent songs, read 99 cent chapters…

To be fair to them, the (traditional) publishers have given it a go but they have been labo(u)ring with a model that is no longer sustainable and they seemed to miss, or were in denial about, the cultural and societal shift from the Yahoo model to Google (expert opinion to wisdom of the crowd). As Clayton Christensen observes, it is difficult for a successful industry to disrupt itself. The tipping point in this case had to, and did, come from the outsider – Open Source / Open Courseware / OER / Open Publishers that have sprung up and the demand for that particular “Bag of Gold” (Gardner Campbell)

Here’s what Apple need to announce:
1) we are partnering or soon will with every publisher on the planet (I know that’s ambitious, but this is the big Apple in the Big Apple)
2) we will have a drag and drop, platform agnostic interface that will allow anyone to select chapters from any texts and turn them into a custom text
3) chapters will cost 99c a time – no exceptions
4) texts that are produced will be immediately accessible by any student, on any device, from anywhere, for $10
5) we will get society away from print as that kills trees – hey, they got us off CDs and into e-songs
6) the texts will be able to incorporate OER and self-published elements at no charge

Flatworld Knowledge are the best model I know and already achieve many of the above, but I fear that they may just get swallowed up by a major publisher who assimilates their content and charges 3x the price. (and on a personal level, all the guys I have worked with at Flatworld will be super rich and won’t return my calls anymore)

Apple might just be the one giant player with the power – and the spirit of Jobs – to get this, no pun intended, job done.
January 19th happens to be my son’s 12th birthday –  perhaps I can give him (notice of) affordable textbooks as a gift – I can see his little face light up as he says, “what do you mean no DS games??!!”


ps – Michael Morpurgo wrote Warhorse – Spielberg’s new movie – involves, war, a horse, the trenches in Europe, no-man’s land and some illegal downloads of MP3s…