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Apple Intends To 'Digitally Destroy' Textbook Publishing 396

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-destroy-the-price dept.
bonch writes "Apple is expected to announce e-book creation and social interaction tools at their January 19 media event taking place in New York, the heart of the publishing industry. Along with expanded interactivity features such as test-taking, the event is expected to showcase an ePub 3-compatible 'Garageband for e-books' to address the lack of simple digital publishing tools. Steve Jobs reportedly considered textbook publishing to be 'an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction' and was directly involved with Apple's efforts in this area until his death."
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Apple Intends To 'Digitally Destroy' Textbook Publishing

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  • by gasmonso (929871) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:01PM (#38730500) Homepage

    Let's hope this will loosen the grip of the major publishing companies. Paying $150 for a textbook (at least in the US) because you HAVE to get the newest revision to correct a few spelling mistakes is bullshit!

    gasmonso ReligiousFreaks.com [religiousfreaks.com]

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:03PM (#38730518)

      With the way things would go, we would end up paying $175 for an e-book that would get denied access to upon the end of the semester, or at least pay $150 for something that cannot be resold.

    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOsPAm.Gmail.com> on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:04PM (#38730532) Homepage Journal

      Let's hope this will loosen the grip of the major publishing companies. Paying $150 for a textbook (at least in the US) because you HAVE to get the newest revision to correct a few spelling mistakes is bullshit!

      gasmonso ReligiousFreaks.com [religiousfreaks.com]

      While I had no love for the whole textbook scam back in college either, nor am I all that comfortable with Apple (or anyone else) "destroying" print textbooks.

      • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @07:00PM (#38731330)

        I am. Good riddance to an evil industry. Even better, since these e-textbooks will be digitally transferred, it won't be long before some smart people figure out how to pirate them, so even if they try to change obscene amounts for the ePub versions, rampant piracy will help keep costs down for struggling students.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:04PM (#38730540)

      You know that an industry is way overcharging if buying a $500 tablet to buy cheaper books is a desirable option.

      • by Suki I (1546431)

        You know that an industry is way overcharging if buying a $500 tablet to buy cheaper books is a desirable option.

        Exactly!

        However, I am also in unison with the others who expect expensive eTBooks and only marginal increased utility.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Granted iPads do other things as well, but they aren't anywhere near good enough with battery life to compete with a book. I think by the time my nephew is in college in like 16 years or so it will be a much more reasonable proposition in that regards, but for the time being, the book is probably better for studying.

          I personally prefer ebooks for most things these days as it means that I no longer have to decide whether to store or sell my books, but buying an iPad is going a bit far IMHO.

          • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:27PM (#38730870)

            Granted iPads do other things as well, but they aren't anywhere near good enough with battery life to compete with a book.

            I'd also argue they don't do nearly enough to compete with a book. When I used to use physical textbooks, I'd write all over them. Then I started using a tablet PC for all my note taking, and I would scan in my textbooks to use digitally. With the stylus I was still able to write in them, but I would also cut and paste images, charts, etc into my notes during class. One notable example I remember is when professor trying to draw a diagram from the book onto the chalkboard, I just copied the diagram over. Everyone else was going off his mangled reproduction while I had the real thing.

            Now we have the iPad, which doesn't have a digitizer and doesn't allow you to cut and paste much between applications. Everyone is trying to shoehorn it fit into education, when much better (albeit poorly marketed) alternative have been there all along.

      • Please remember this is the same Apple that forced ebook prices higher because they wanted to take a larger cut than places like Amazon, but Apple forced publishes to set retail prices the same for all outlets.

      • In my undergrad, I took biology and chemistry classes. But then they go and charge the same price for information/research (for introductory level courses anyways) that has not changed for decades. The same book that cost $200 in 1990 is still $200 in 2010, still has tons of typos, ambiguous phrasing, still doesn't source the material and is by that point in the 50th edition. Maybe the typos are introduced on purpose as an excuse to come out with a new revised edition, with -different- typos.

        If you want $20

    • When is the last time you were in education? Since 2005 I've yet to meet a professor who absolutely required the newest edition. Most will say "Yeah, the last edition will do just fine." I've even met some who will post the problem numbers from last and current editions. Last edition textbooks can usually be bought for very cheap on amazon. The only real problem I've run into with the textbook industry is trying to sell back books because a newer edition came out.
      • by Volvogga (867092)

        It depends on the subject. I am retaking an accounting class, and that text book is on a update schedule of every year and a half to two years. Now what exactly has changed that much in the practice of accounting? Much of accounting, I will remind everyone, is dictated by the IRS. So again, how much has changed? Catch is that they change the workbook problems at the end of each chapter, so you will be buying it.

        For the most part, professors let the publishers go nuts. I had *one* professor that talked dire

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      If it's anything like digital software distribution, the online price for a new book will be the same as the retail price. Maybe cut off a few dollars to attract some school board attention. When the middle man is cut out it means that the publisher can pocket the savings instead of passing them on to the consumer.

    • And by "free" I both free as in freedom and free as in beer.

      90% of all of the material taught in K-12 and probably 50% of all of the material taught in an non-technology focused undergraduate degree hasn't changed in decades, and a non-trivial chunk of it hasn't changed in centuries. Granted that teaching methodology has improved some, but there's simply no logical reason why we as a society have allowed textbook publishers to bleed us for countless billions the way we have.

      It's crazy at the university

  • Titles like that make for good drama, but we must stand back for a second to see what this means.

    The "digital destruction" of textbook publishing has been underway for quite some time. The Internet has made the dissemination of information easy and cheap. Even before the Internet, digital mediums such as DVD and Laserdisc were used by educational institutions for teaching.

    Self-published homemade works are now commonplace with music, movies, news (blogs), interactive media such as webpages and software. F

    • by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:18PM (#38730716)

      One problem with "self-published homemade works" is that there are few areas where these are yet of any quality.

      The internet gives everyone a voice, true. This carries many benefits, but it also weeds out the structure that before prevented kooks and cranks from influencing as many as they do today.

      The mechanisms by which this was accomplished are not in and of themselves wholly good, but there was good in the fact that most people with influential voices in media, in medicine, etc. were educated and trained. Today bloggers feel they are journalists and rumors/gossip too often pass for news. Fact checking, not just in media but in people's psyches as a whole, is quickly becoming extinct.

      You can look at the growth in general public belief in any number of dubious conspiracy theories, in the emoting against vaccines, and armies of the dumb outraged about breastfeeding and any number of other topics which in the past were inane and not considered social advocacy issues. The internet has amplified many times over the voice of the dumb, while the voice of those qualified to speak on a topic is also amplified, it's often being drowned out.

      Self-publishing of educational textbooks is not, in my opinion, going to affect this trend in the right direction.

      It was said once that evil will always triumph because good is dumb. Well.. stupid triumphs because the internet age hasn't adapted for it, and smart isn't loud enough.

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        One problem with "self-published homemade works" is that there are few areas where these are yet of any quality.

        Totally untrue. See my sig for a catalog of free books. Many of these are of very high quality. Here are a few examples:

        1. Hefferon, Linear Algebra, http://joshua.smcvt.edu/linalg.html [smcvt.edu]
        2. Keisler, Elementary Calculus: An Approach Using Infinitesimals, http://www.math.wisc.edu/~keisler/calc.html [wisc.edu]
        3. Judson, Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, http://abstract.ups.edu/ [ups.edu]
        4. Thide, Electromagnetic Field Theory, http://www.plasma.uu.se/CED/Book/ [plasma.uu.se]

        Those are just the first few that came to mind.

      • by lahvak (69490)

        Actually, at least in the case of college textbook, this is really largely irrelevant. It is the professor who selects the textbook, and, hopefully, she knows her subject well enough to be able to distinguish good books from crap.

  • by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:06PM (#38730568)

    ... will now sue Apple for being similar to their products, taking inspiration from an existing product, and causing marketplace confusion in the textbook market.

  • by bigredradio (631970) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:06PM (#38730570) Homepage Journal

    Aren't most e-readers able to display PDF files? I am sure e-PUB has more features, but creating multi-page PDFs or converting docs using Calibre seems to work well.

    BTW, If we get rid of publishers, we lose the editor. Get ready for 1,000 page epics about cats.

    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      Aren't most e-readers able to display PDF files? I am sure e-PUB has more features, but creating multi-page PDFs or converting docs using Calibre seems to work well.

      BTW, If we get rid of publishers, we lose the editor. Get ready for 1,000 page epics about cats.

      I'm sure such feline themed tomes exist already, but I'm too lazy to check Amazon to verify.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:16PM (#38730696)

      Yes, but PDFs are terrible on them typically. PDFs were designed so that a document would look the same and be printed the same in various places. The problem is that they do reflow the text and options for getting them to fit on the page aren't good. You can either scale them or you can zoom in and scroll around, neither of which is particularly desirable.

    • by Suki I (1546431)

      BTW, If we get rid of publishers, we lose the editor. Get ready for 1,000 page epics about cats.

      The rise of the freelance editor!

    • We already have 1000 page epics about cats (LOL Cats), they just aren't in ePub. The only editor I need is myself. It is great that there are works on the Internet that only five people will read, but if editors edited the Internet than those five people would have nothing to read. The only reasons editors need to exist are to save the publishers money from publishing expensive books that few will read. With relatively low cost of electronic documenting they become obsolete and it is up to the reader to
    • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:34PM (#38730974) Homepage

      Aren't most e-readers able to display PDF files?

      Yes, but the experience sucks. For example, if the pdf was formatted with lines of text 18 cm wide, but you're viewing it on a reader with a 10 cm-wide screen, you're going to have to scroll back and forth with every line you read -- or resize it so small that the font becomes illegible.

      converting docs using Calibre seems to work well.

      Calibre works fine on some things, but not others. For example, it has no math support (basically because none of the output formats it supports, such as epub 2, have any math support).

      I don't buy the claim in the Ars article that the big thing standing in the way of digital textbooks is that the tools for creating them are nonexistent, not good enough, or too hard to use. First off, textbook publishers have paid professionals who do this sort of thing. And in any case, the real barrier is that the ebook formats are extremely limited. The big issue for math and science textbooks is that the kindle and epub 2 formats don't support math properly. (You can display equations as bitmaps, but only if they're placed on a line by themselves in the middle of the page. Bitmapped equations won't scale properly when the user selects a different font, and they aren't accessible to blind people.) Epub 3 includes mathml, which is great, but there are currently zero readers on the market that support epub 3+mathml. Amazon has recently come out with the latest version of the kindle format, and it does not include math, so it seems unlikely that there will be math on the kindle in the foreseeable future. If and when readers start to support epub 3+mathml, there is no major technical barrier to creating textbooks with math in them. If you have tools to create xhtml+mathml (which are very easy to find), then it's trivial to create epub 3+mathml, because epub is basically just a set of html files packaged together in a zip file. Some OSS, such as epubcheck, already supports epub 3. I'm sure that tools such as Calibre will provide the necessary support (which will not be hard to do) once there is support from readers, although there is little motivation for the developers to do it right now, since there will no device that can actually do anything with the resulting file.

      In any case, let's be realistic about what all this means. These books will have DRM, just like all commercial ebooks have already. The books will be priced just as exploitatively as current textbooks are, because the publishers know that that's what college students are currently paying.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        "there are currently zero readers on the market that support epub 3+mathml."

        Fixing that would take a simple software update for the iPad or any other tablet manufacturer who wanted to get into the textbook business.

        "let's be realistic about what all this means. These books will have DRM, just like all commercial ebooks have already. The books will be priced just as exploitatively as current textbooks are, because the publishers know that that's what college students are currently paying."

        Remember the music

    • by vlm (69642)

      BTW, If we get rid of publishers, we lose the editor.

      No, the prof becomes the editor. I had a microwave RF class where the prof gave us a page of this, a page of that, etc etc.
      Probably did add up to 1000 pages by the end of class. He did extort a $20 bill from each of us to pay for the photocopier, but it was better than buying a textbook.

      I would like to see a mashup app where the textbook could be created out of little sources. Here's a 10 page article about smith charts that'll be 50 cents. Click here to add the free 3 page wikipedia article about basic

    • by snero3 (610114)

      I have been waiting for work of a art to be released for years!!

    • by Tom (822)

      PDF is intended for printing, and it shows.

      I've just published an e-book, and epub is the vastly superior format. Since it is basically HTML, it will re-flow your text, you can change font sizes and fonts, it will work in both landscape and portrait and so on and so forth.

      You don't want PDF for e-books. Download a few ebooks and a few PDF-books to an iPad or something and compare them.

  • I'm pretty sure some of the bigger textbooks companies pay significant kickbacks to colleges and departments to require the latest editions their overpriced crap. Unless Apple is going to be offering similar kickbacks, I'm not holding my breath.

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:50PM (#38731176) Homepage

      I'm pretty sure some of the bigger textbooks companies pay significant kickbacks to colleges and departments to require the latest editions their overpriced crap.

      No. Every time there's a textbook story on slashdot, someone posts this nonsense about "kickbacks." Every time I see it, I post a reply and ask for evidence. None is ever forthcoming.

      I teach physics at a community college. I have been approached by many, many textbook reps. None has ever offered me a kickback.

      Publishers do not need to offer kickbacks to get instructors to switch to the latest edition. The publisher simply stops selling the older edition, and the prof has no choice but to switch.

  • Steve's Right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by milbournosphere (1273186) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:17PM (#38730698)
    I'm only two years out of college, and unless things have magically corrected themselves in that time, the college text book business remains completely frakked up. They've taken the 'Edition' distribution model and have used it to very much hurt the used book business, all while pushing prices higher and higher, yet adding no real value. They've literally got students (and to a smaller sense, professors) by the balls. I gladly welcome Apple's entry to the market; somebody needs to shake things up and eat the lunch of these archaic publishers. Not everyone loves them, but Apple is one of a few companies that has shown their ability to enter a market do just that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ForestHill (958172)

      They've literally got students (and to a smaller sense, professors) by the balls.

      You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:19PM (#38730742)

    Any text editor.
    Any word processor.
    Any desktop publisher.
    Any web page editor.
    Any wiki page.
    Any blog.

    i.e. WTF?

    Is this like when they branded lemonade as "Sprite" to increase the margin?

  • by Jeng (926980) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:20PM (#38730748)

    The problem with college textbooks is that you have to find someone who is

    A) Willing to write a book
    B) An expert in the subject who is able to take their knowledge and lay it out in such a way that it is useful to the student and the professor.

    And what really makes them expensive is that there might be three or four thousand copies printed total, so that everything that went into writing that book has to be recouped off of just three or four thousand copies, instead of the millions of copies for pulp fiction titles.

    • B) An expert in the subject who is able to take their knowledge and lay it out in such a way that it is useful to the student and the professor.

      That doesn't seem to stop them.

    • by afidel (530433)
      BS, how many people here had to buy a $150 Calculus textbook or a $120 Chem 101 textbook. There is no shortage of people able and willing to write either and there is certainly an audience of more than a few thousand for each. The real problem is that textbooks became an industry and therefore there had to be new product every year whether there was any justification for one or not. It's a problem that will ultimately be self correcting, but it will take some time, either costs will come down and release cy
    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @09:14PM (#38733038)

      Do you know how most textbooks are written?

      One or more professors get together and say "hey, how about making a textbook about this?" Quite often this is because they have to teach a class on that topic and don't like any of the existing textbooks. These are the editors.

      The editors pitch their idea to a publisher. If the publisher likes it, they say, sure, go for it. Now the editors ask their colleagues to contribute to the textbook. Chapters get written.

      Finally, when the book is all put together (and I do mean all put together - the last chapter I wrote for a textbook had to be formatted just so, by me) it goes off to the publisher. Oh, and by the way, if anybody in that chain gets paid (other than the publisher), it's the editors, and it's not very much. But everybody gets to put it on their CV, which for an academic is supposed to be MUCH better than money. Or so we tell ourselves.

      Now, I'm sure the publisher does more than just print off the book and market it, but it's not a whole lot more, and it's certainly not something that a big company like Apple couldn't do.

  • Interviewer: "So, Dr. Shiva, what are your responsibilities at Apple?"

    Executive: "Well, as 'Director of Digital Destruction' at Apple . . . "

    I'm surprised they didn't give it some schmaltzy name, like, "Re-birthing of New Education, for the Age of Aquarius Epoch" . . .

    "Digital Destruction" is bound to get the attention of the DHS, TSA and their pals . . . "Hey, they're planning to destroy our Homeland Industry!"

  • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:25PM (#38730830)

    Wikibooks has been around for a while, it just lacks collaboration from real experts. MIT open courseware has some textbooks. Scientific papers are becoming openly available in many cases. The evolution is just not complete. But take it from someone who has written technical reports and is working on a space propulsion online textbook ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods [wikibooks.org] ), the hard part is the human writing and editing, not which software you do it on. Apple could have a slick program with a "make pretty" button, and people like me would still have to do all the same work to create the content.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Yes, the layout tool isn't the biggest problem. What's missing is a "publisher" with a motive for making electronic textbooks cheap and easy.

      Wikibooks is having trouble not because it doesn't have experts but because it doesn't have any quality control. Who wants to spend time writing a textbook that's going to get lost amongst a sea of crap? MIT open courseware is fine, but small. Scientific papers are in no way an acceptable replacement for textbooks.

      What's needed is a company that will put a small am

  • Bookboon.com (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:32PM (#38730940)

    www.bookboon.com are doing a good job providing free textbooks, written by Profs

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This could be interesting. The biggest problem with this is the way the market works. Okay, so we make a book. The physical cost of the book (your college chemistry book) was $3.65. Once you included in the author, the editor, salesperson's salary, MY salary in IT, etc, it was $45. We sold it to the bookstores for that, then they sold it for $65. Which means that we could theoretically sell it for $42. Not a huge saving... except when you include that middleman charging $20 more.

    So, if we were to sel

  • by unity100 (970058) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:41PM (#38731060) Homepage Journal

    The very company which is going on suing spree in madness to prevent competitors ? and also famous for walled gardens and overcharging for anything ?

    and why havent any of you brought this up until this comment ?

  • If ebooks can penetrate the K-12 market and lower costs significantly, then much power will be taken out of the Texas Board of Education's hands. School districts around the nation could decide for themselves if they wanted to teach that humans played with dinosaurs 5000 years ago, and not be forced to buy text books that spout such nonsense because Texas is the largest market and gets to set curriculum.
  • In 10years I'm fairly sure I'll have rabid apple fans telling me all about how apple invented the ebook... along with the Smart phone, the MP3 player, the internet, the personal computer, etc... and how lame it is that everyone just keeps copying them. "Go ahead and use your lame non-apple ebooks, I heard their full of viruses anyway"
    • Re:the future (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jo_ham (604554) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (999mahoj)> on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @07:21PM (#38731636)

      Amazingly enough, "Apple fans" tend not to claim those things. The'll usually claim that Apple made a particular niche popular - portable music players, all in one computers, tablet computers, online music stores etc. Rarely do they ever claim that Apple "invented" them - because they obviously didn't.

      Apple haters, however, will claim that's what Apple fans believe and say, and then "righteously" yell at them for "being wrong".

      It's getting old.

  • When my wife was a prof, the textbook industry was her biggest peeve. Every year, a new textbook comes out, many with websites that contain supplementary and additional information. The websites become invalid at the end of the school year thereby eroding the used textbook market. With each coming year, faced with a new textbook, course instructors have to run through the book to update their curriculum where necessary..

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday January 17, 2012 @06:56PM (#38731278)

    The Chiropractor's Guild will likely come out strongly against this too, because people won't be throwing their backs out carrying around chemistry and physics textbooks.

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