One thing about following Apple is that once you understand a few things about their corporate culture and business model, they become extremely predictable. Shortly after Apple announced their January 19th event regarding publishing, I stated the following in a reply on another blog:
- Apple would announce that they had re-invented textbooks.
- You would need a Mac in order to author the re-invented textbooks.
- You would have to sell the re-invented textbooks on iTunes, pay Apple a nonnegotiable percentage, and be subject to their content standards.
And that pretty much turns out to be the Apple announcement in a nutshell. Except of course for what wasn’t said, not by Apple and not by those reporters wanting to ever again be invited to an Apple press event. And that is:
Apple wants to use a set of $15 each interactive e-textbooks to get school districts to buy an iPad for every single K-12 student in the United States.
That is slightly over 76 million iPads.
Moreover, the even more unspoken thing behind the unspoken thing at the Apple event was:
Having spent a dozen of their most formative years using our products for hours every day we anticipate that they will be dedicated customers for life.
With the average hardcover K-12 textbook costing $75 dollars each, it would seem to make some economic sense to purchase a $500 iPad and $15 textbooks…assuming you completely convert all your curriculum to Apple’s textbooks and get a reasonably long lifespan from the tablets. If you only convert a couple of courses or only expect a couple of years use of the iPads before replacement, the numbers make less sense.
Honestly if I had young children that I was expecting to home-school, I would definitely consider the Apple route because I can be sure that the tablets weren’t abused and it is just one personal purchase. However if we are talking about spending millions of taxpayer dollars (billions nationwide) and setting the educational path of an entire generation, more serious questions regarding technology need to be asked beyond just how neat the interactive graphics look in this schoolbook.
Moreover to combat a false sense of urgency from e-textbook sales forces, school districts need to remember this: There is absolutely nothing about these ‘re-invented’ interactive e-textbooks that could not be done with a well-designed educational website. Sure an interactive geography textbook is cool….but so is Google Earth.
So a school board member, or just a concerned taxpayer, should ask the following questions. Frankly a no answer to any of them ought to be enough to wait for the e-textbook market to mature.
- Can we competitively bid textbook readers from multiple vendors independently from the decision as to which textbook publisher we want to buy a curriculum of e-textbooks from?
- Can we competitively bid subsequent years’ additional purchases of replacement textbook readers from multiple vendors and still have prior years’ e-textbook purchases usable on them?
- Will the e-textbooks behave essentially the same on readers from different manufacturers? Or must an entire class have identical readers to function effectively?
- If the school board decides to adopt a new reading or math curriculum, will it not require buying entirely new textbook readers or require one reader for some subjects and another for others?
- If students use other technology for studying and completing assignments at home, does the e-textbook integrate easily with applications on a broad variety of them (PC, Macs, Android, etc)?
Now if you think that bar is too high for an e-textbook publisher to reach, consider this: A well-designed educational website already can answer yes to every one of those questions!