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From Texting to Textbooks: Apple Gets Ready to Change the World (Again)

If you are a student with an iPad, you might not need a backpack anymore. According to the WSJ, that’s the way that Apple wants things to be, and Apple is pretty good at getting what it wants. This week, the company that changed the music industry unveiled a plan to get into the electronic textbook gold rush. If you’re a college student living on top ramen after taking out a $20,000 loan every semester, the electronic textbooks that Apple is talking about are good news: “Textbooks for courses such as algebra 1; environmental science and biology will be available first, priced at $14.99 or less.”

$14.99 might sound like a lot if you’re in high school, but any STEM major knows that an introductory textbook made out of paper, cardboard and glue can cost upward of $100. That’s a lot of money for books that most professors don’t reference much anyway. Electronic texts don’t have all of the advantages of paper texts: It’s harder to make notes in the margin and easier to get distracted since iTunes is only one click away. But, if nothing else, the $85 you save on Biology 101 might be enough for an upgrade—from ramen to mac-n-cheese.

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  • LarryD

    The collage textbook market should be studied by beginning economics students. A “textbook case” in constrained competition, cartels and monopoly.

    Except that the teachers are likely to be in on it, the collages are.

  • WigWag

    I hope Professor Mead is right and that the reality lives up to the hype about all of this. What gives me pause is that Apple is is entering the textbook distribution business in partnership with McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Those two companies, along with a few others, are responsible for the outrageous prices of textbooks (of course, the college Professors who assign overpriced textbooks are even more responsible).

    The publishers have every motivation to insure that textbooks continue to be priced at ridiculous levels and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are embracing Apple in the hope that it will protect them from the company that has really shown an interest in cutting book prices; Amazon.

    It should be remembered that when E-Readers first came out, Amazon insisted that it would not sell any book in electronic form for more than $9.99; this infuriated the publishing world. When Apple introduced the I-Pad, it agreed to let publishers set E-Book prices. Almost immediately publishers began refusing access to their copyrighted property to Amazon and instead opted for E-sales through the Apple Book Store.

    A perfect example of this is Professor Mead’s wonderful book, “God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.” I purchased it for the Kindle at the Amazon bookstore about a year ago for $9.99. Now Amazon is charging $14.99 for the same book; an almost 50 percent increase. There are essentially no costs to the publisher once the E-book is formatted in electronic form. Although I don’t know, my guess is that Professor Mead pockets significantly less than 50 percent of what Amazon is charging. I suspect that most of the profit goes to the publisher (Random House) essentially for doing nothing.

    Had Apple supported the Amazon strategy of charging no more than $9.99, the publishing industry would have had no choice but to relent. By allowing publishers to set the price of their books (which should, in my opinion be an antitrust violation), Apple insured that E-books would be more expensive for everyone.

    As a result of Apple’s decision, it was Amazon that was forced to relent and the price of E-Books has been rising ever since. My guess is that this is a move by the textbook publishers to preempt even greater price cutting by Amazon later on.

    We will have to see how all of this works out. The best hope for falling textbook prices is that disintermediation comes to the publishing world in a big way. Hopefully textbook authors will eventually sell their wares through companies with a wide distribution system like Amazon and Apple and that the publishing companies themselves become extinct

    Ultimately it’s up to college and universities and the professors who assign texts. If they insist that their students purchase overpriced books, the students will have no choice. If they learn to respect the financial constraints that most students operate under, they will assign less expensive texts and the price of all texts will come down.

    Ultimately it wouldn’t surprise me if professors and their employers (colleges and universities) go into the textbook publishing business together while using Apple and Amazon to distribute the texts that they jointly produce and market. Most texts are written by professors and the university logo lends quite a bit of luster to any piece of intellectual property. The textbook publishing companies are simply becoming extraneous.

    This is a good thing.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Now if we could save the $20,000 in tuition by making all the classes electronic, admissions unnecessary, and degrees a matter of testing, we would achieve something revolutionary.

  • Splashman

    Apple has released a *free* app that *anyone* can use to create textbooks and post on the iTunes bookstore, price TBT by the author or free. So this isn’t a power play by the big textbook publishers — it’s an opportunity for all publishers, right down to 5-year-olds.

    And contrary to Mr. Mead’s statement, it is not “harder to make notes in the margin” — it’s easier, and there are other features (highlighting, study cards, list of all highlights & notes, click-to-define, searching, etc) which make it ridiculously easy to prepare for a test. Watch the video of the “Education Event”; there’s a link at Apple’s home page. It’s fun and enlightening.

  • Joe

    $14.99 per book? The publishers (McGraw-Hill in particular) are already charging upwards of $50 simply for access to their online homework/quiz systems that professors are using these days. I really hope Apple can make some headway in normalizing the costs, but finding a discount on an e-book doesn’t mean anything if you can’t do the classwork without paying a fee direct to the publisher.

    Oh, and I consider myself lucky if I can find a used copy of a book anywhere NEAR $100. I set a new record last week with $220 on a McGraw-Hill Thermo textbook.

  • Jbird

    Top Ramen >> Kraft “Mac n cheese”

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