Apple hasn't yet released the particulars of its iBook app, but it heralds a potential textbook revolution for three reasons. First, if the online store allows chapters to be purchased individually, professors and students will enjoy unprecedented freedom to assign chapters rather than volumes. That would be welcome news for cash-strapped students since textbooks can easily run $300 or more a semester, even though much of the content goes unread.There's a reason to rein in some of the enthusiasm as the iPad applies to non-traditional students, but that the textbook industry itself could now be revolutionized is by no means hyperbole.
Second, integrated graphics in a textbook will be another education revolution. Physics, math chemistry, economics, etc. -- these subjects are so thoroughly enhanced by graphics that I'm already getting jealous of all the kids who will grow up in an e-textbook age. Imagine a physics app that allows you to learn dynamics by toying with variables and seeing the real-time result, or a biology graphic displaying the mitosis process. It's so much more intuitive than text or a static picture. What's more, e-textbooks can be updated. In 2008, when I was an economics major, the field was being rewritten, and sections of our books seemed almost archaic. Publishers no longer have to continually issue new editions. They'll just upload updates online to be retrieved wirelessly.
Third, beyond graphics, an e-textbook allows yet another layer of interactivity. Students could save their own notes in the tablet, flagged to the relevant passage in the text, while teachers could make available online chapters with the professors' annotations built in.
As for publishers themselves, the enthusiasm is palatable:
David Pallai, a Metropolitan College lecturer in the book and magazine publishing certificate program and a publisher at Jones and Bartlett Publishers, says there are good reasons for the high costs of textbooks. They require research and extensive edits to ensure accuracy, he says, they are often printed in color, and they must be shipped and marketed.
Pallai says his industry is unafraid and even excited about the options available in digital publishing.
“Publishers are anxious to digitize content,” he says. “It’s a way to reach customers directly, and it will have a positive effect because we won’t be spending as much money on manufacturing the book. I think over time this will save everyone a lot of money.”