Digital, Print Textbooks to Compete for College Audience

Professors and students wait to see the impact of Apple's big splash in the college landscape.

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Apple Inc. took its first notable step into the digital textbook industry in January when it unveiled its iBooks 2 app, which lets iPad users download e-textbooks. With roughly 1.5 million iPads already in use in educational institutions, according to Apple, offering e-textbooks is a natural move for a company that has established itself within the education market.

"Education is deep in Apple's DNA and iPad may be our most exciting education product yet," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, in a press release. "With iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging, and truly interactive way to read and learn."

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E-textbooks offered through the free iBooks 2 app will offer students and professors features such as interactive images, embedded video, and study aid tools. For this launch, Apple has partnered with three textbook giants—Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—and has released several e-textbooks geared toward a high school audience.

With most digital textbooks in Apple's iTunes store priced at $14.99 or less, it may be an appealing option for college students. According to College Board, the average student at a four-year public college will spend $1,168 on books and supplies during the 2011-2012 academic year—a cost that could shrink with mainstream digital textbooks.

"We know that student expenses for textbooks are astronomical," says Bill Handy, a lecturer at Oklahoma State University. "[Digital textbooks] are something that can make a huge difference for the average student."

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College students will embrace e-textbooks, says Eric Gaydos, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, who acknowledges that the ease of transporting digital textbooks is the "biggest draw" for him.

"You can take them anywhere you can possibly want," Gaydos says. "It's just cumbersome to have six books in your backpack at one time."

Gaydos also notes that e-textbooks will increase productivity in the classroom, as professors will be able to upload lectures to complement students' readings for the course. Because students can interact with the reading and lectures before class, professors will be able to use the classroom time, normally set aside for lectures, to answer students' questions, he says.

"I think one of the big things is that you spend so much time learning theory that you don't actually learn how to apply the material," Gaydos says. "[E-textbooks] would save time [in class], make it more credible, and it would be a lot easier to digest."

For professors, who often teach multiple courses, digital textbook options will increase productivity of all faculty members, Handy notes.

"As a professor, I would have 15 or 20 textbooks that I would reference [in a semester], and they're all in my iPad now," he says. "We have to understand the upside of e-books is equal for faculty members. It's going to be a complete shift in how we teach."

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Apple has also introduced iBooks Author, which will give educators the opportunity to create e-textbooks with video and imported text. This tool has the "potential of opening a whole creative side to the classroom," says Gene Kritsky, professor and chair of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.

"Faculty who have an interest in creating their own content are going to be able to do this in a very rapid way," Kritsky says. "This, essentially, is giving us the tools to help us do what we do even better."

While Apple's announcement shines positive light on the future of the digital textbook market, Chad Stith, campus evangelist for the textbook rental site BookRenter.com, says it will take time for e-textbooks to have an impact.

"[Digital textbooks] are a solution to a problem no one really has yet," Stith says. "The announcement has been met enthusiastically, but students haven't clamored for digital copies of textbooks to be made available on the iPad yet."