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Apple Intends To 'Digitally Destroy' Textbook Publishing

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the just-destroy-the-price dept.

Education 396

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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Magic (0, Troll)

siddesu (698447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730486)

From the summary, that's what it feels like. My hair is tingling, my hands are shaking, my pupils are dilating, my mouth opens all by itself and I feel happiness and joy take me over.

Is this the second cumming?

Is he still alive somewhere?

I can't wait.

I

MUST

BUY

Re:Magic (3, Interesting)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730646)

I know you're being tongue-in-cheek, but Apple's ability to make normal people excited about technology is one of their most important assets. I'm glad they're around to get non-techies hyped up about things like "ePub" and "digital distribution."

Re:Magic (1, Insightful)

siddesu (698447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730932)

Apple is "exciting" people about "technology" the same way Louis Vuitton is "exciting" people about, you know, apparel design and textile technology. Both companies sell an image and the fashion accessories to build it, and most people buy their products exactly as a fashion accessory.

With Apple it can actually get worse -- if you make the Apple device the dominant way you access information. That's fine and dandy, until you consider that when you buy the shiny little toy, you only get permission to access the world through it the way the designers of the technology believe it should be accessed, through their "approved" modes.

Once I heard an expression in a meeting that describes the situation very aptly -- "we're looking at your specs as if through a bent straw", said some desperate developer. If you're using Apple products, that means that you're looking at the world through a very bent straw, and Apple is doing the bending. Is it in your favor? You decide.

Of course, you can choose to be grateful and excited.

Re:Magic (5, Insightful)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731114)

Apple is "exciting" people about "technology" the same way Louis Vuitton is "exciting" people about, you know, apparel design and textile technology. Both companies sell an image and the fashion accessories to build it, and most people buy their products exactly as a fashion accessory.

Someone made computers cool for the general public. The horror.

With Apple it can actually get worse -- if you make the Apple device the dominant way you access information. That's fine and dandy, until you consider that when you buy the shiny little toy, you only get permission to access the world through it the way the designers of the technology believe it should be accessed, through their "approved" modes.

I think some of the Apple hatred stems from the fact that many techies absorb themselves in computers because it gives them a feeling of control that they lack in their daily lives. Mastering a system is gratifying on many levels. When a company offers a platform that doesn't allow or require that kind of micro-management and control, it's really like an attack on the person directly, especially when the product is popular among non-techies--many of the same people who alienated that person in the first place. And so there's resentment.

The only reason I say all this is that concerns like yours don't exist in the general populace; it doesn't even cross their minds that it would be a problem. They see the lack of open-endedness as simplification and refinement that makes the devices easier to use. As Steve Jobs use to say, something "mere mortals" could use. So I say again, I think it's awesome that the public is allowed to be excited about things like "ePub" and "digital distribution" rather than rely on nerds like us to trickle it down to the rest of the population.

Re:Magic (4, Insightful)

siddesu (698447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731440)

many techies absorb themselves in computers because it gives them a feeling of control that they lack in their daily lives

I don't believe you think more than skin-deep about the dangers of the "walled garden" approach. The problem with Apple is very simple -- they have delegated themselves a right to approve how do you use "their" device and a right to charge you a tithe for everything that comes to you on "their" hardware. In effect, you've relinquished ownership, and, unlike some other platforms, you have no legal way out.

Also, software freedom is only a small part of it. Think of other possibilities that the Apple approach prevents. Even if an independent business and an owner of an Apple device both think there is a business mode they both can benefit from, which mode does not go through the Apple-approved system, they cannot achieve it easily, and hence cannot exploit the full potential of the hardware platform to their advantage. This is especially bad for the person who has paid the price for the Apple device.

Re:Magic (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731456)

Both companies sell an image and the fashion accessories to build it, and most people buy their products exactly as a fashion accessory.

It's not just that. The reason Apple took off in consumer electronics was the iPod, and the reason it took off was not the device itself, but because Apple hammered out distribution rights with major music publishers. Paid downloads of music were an obvious idea by then, but so what? Nobody else had made it happen (not with major labels most people wanted). Digital textbooks are the same deal - the hardware is almost a given, the content is already there - it's all about distribution rights. And, yes, DRM is part and parcel with distribution rights, because most content producers DO want to get paid. (That said, if a huge customer like the UC system wants to pay for their own content development and then allow free redistribution, I agree that would be even better.)

Re:Magic (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731290)

I'll just be glad if they succeed in destroying the textbook publishing business. There are few greater hives of scum and villainy than that one; putting out a new "revised edition" every 2 years for an ancient subject like calculus just so they can keep you from selling your textbook or buying a cheaper used one. I hope they die just like the video rental business.

Re:Magic (1)

anonymov (1768712) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731490)

putting out a new "revised edition" every 2 years for an ancient subject like calculus just so they can keep you from selling your textbook or buying a cheaper used one

... As opposed to complete inability to resell a license?

Hopefully, we'll get it either cheap enough to compensate or - in an ideal world - DRM free.

Worst case scenario would be publishers catching up and starting to sell them on their own, overpriced, some fucked up proprietary format and DRM'd up to the ears.

Re:Magic (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730658)

Funny, insightful and spot on. But Apple fanbois are out in full force tonight, bro, you'll be modded to Jobsereens.

Re:Magic (3, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730780)

Doesn't matter. There is no student alive who doesn't want this to happen. (Although many are indeed blind Apple fans, anything that can be done to emaciate textbook publishers is a Good Thing.)

Re:Magic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731304)

This student doesn't want it to happen.
-checks pulse-
Yep, you're wrong again.
You know, one of the provisions with corporate-controlled educational eBooks is going to be the book's destruction after XX weeks or XX uses (whichever comes first). The whole corporate digital agenda is just fucked ATM. I'm cool with ink printing on sustainable plant matter, and my little library *looks* awesome.

Re:Magic (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731446)

Okay, point. That is a bad thing. But you know what? They'll be a lot easier to pirate, and even if only one person never uses one such textbook outside of normal classes and everyone else still buys paper because they do, it'll be less money wasted overall. Also, at least with music, Apple eventually shucked off (most of?) the DRM. Perhaps something could happen with electronic textbooks.

Re:Magic (0)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731074)

Mod parent up.

Aphorisms: +4, Insightful (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730492)

One of Nassim N. Talib's aphorisms :

Three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

Add iCrack [apple.com] as the fourth most harmful addiction.

Yours In Minsk,
K. Trout, C.I.O.

$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (5, Insightful)

gasmonso (929871) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730500)

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]

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (3, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730532)

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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (3, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730540)

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

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730668)

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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730760)

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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (5, Interesting)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731334)

This is exactly right. As an educator and an IT person I could not agree more. I actually recently bought a Fujitsu tablet/slate PC used that has full Wacom support and it was because the experience without is terribly lacking for a lot of things. The iPad may have almost every other aspect right, but without this it is just constantly an issue of working around the issue or settling for good enough. I also could not think of being a slave to a textbook, some which I spend hours at a time with, that has battery issues. My personal solution is to create a full size battery pack that the tablet fits into. It can be slim for the times when you have an outlet or shorter time needs, but bulking up by double is still a vast improvement over a single textbook and something anyone would be OK with.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Midnight Ryder (116189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731530)

No digitizer? Hm - the entire tablet allows you to draw on it, as long as the application allows it. As for copy and paste - works great between applications that suport copy and paste. IE - it's not the tablet that's the issue, and it still works well for your scenario *IF* app developers would get offa' their butts and support a few more things in their apps. (However, I can't think of a single productivity app on my iPad that I can't cut and paste between apps, and I've got more than one app that allows me to scetch out something, save it, and paste it into another app.) And if you REALLY have to have it, you can pick up a cheap stylus for it. And you can always shoot pics of the chalkboard from the iPad and save it, too.

iBooks with the ability to add annotations both textual and arbitrary hand drawn graphics would be a bit help.

Not gonna say it's perfect solution - then again, carrying my old Toshiba Libretto wasn't exactly a perfect solution either :-)

I'll believe it when I see it (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730824)

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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731470)

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 $200 for the same old book, write the test for the student and get them an A+. Otherwise, I would hope for future generations of students, the prices of the books drop either from electronic versions or dropping the price of the books anyways.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730676)

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.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730786)

Since 2005 I've yet to meet a professor who absolutely required the newest edition.

When the newest edition has slightly different assignment questions than the previous edition, the professor has to pick one of the two. And he/she can't go with an older edition forever, because if students can't buy it in the university bookstore, not even used... well that's a problem.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730938)

I think you just stopped reading my post before the end. I said, professors I know in that situation post both numbers in the assignment handouts. I've been a student and an instructor in this situation enough, and most people are aware of it, and we work around it. Yes it's a problem when these new editions come out. But the point is I've never seen a situation where the student was told "No, you MUST buy the new edition." I've even seen the situation where there's an entirely new chapter, and the professor made available scans of that chapter for download.

In fact, I'm kind of glad there are these new editions, because then the after market for cheap last editions wouldn't be so ripe for me.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731032)

When the newest edition has slightly different assignment questions than the previous edition, the professor has to pick one of the two.

Or... wait for it... he could take some time to write his own assignments that he can set. Write once, serve often.

Re:$.99 Textbooks? Doubtful but... (2)

Volvogga (867092) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731500)

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 directly with the publishers in the last 5 years, and got two $45 books, by different authors, from completely different series, packaged together and sold for $55.

I don't care for Apple in the slightest, but if they can do something to throw the racket that is textbooks into turmoil, I would give them a slow clap. I don't see it happening. I've seen several textbook publishers begin offering ebook solutions already (although not widely advertised). The price difference isn't worth it. $110 instead of $135 with no way of getting any money back? Yeah, no.

Although it seems to me professors do not fight for a better price, they do put a good bit of effort into researching the textbooks they use (at least from what I gather from the day-1 speeches). I'm not sure the professors are going to be thrilled by the idea of going to some lower brand, potentially lesser quality, book from their usual, often departmentally agreed upon, and familiar big publisher textbook that they've used for years when the big publishers tell Apple to go straight to hell when Apple tries to both get in on the publishers' action and push the prices lower. I doubt Apple will fight them on price at all... that might work for them. Otherwise, this new platform might work out for professors wanting to self-publish a book for their classrooms, but that's about it. I don't expect much to come of this.

Digital Destruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730508)

Destroy the physical and rebuild it as digital.

Make it better, stronger, faster.

Overly dramatic title (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730512)

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. Full-size books are a logical continuation.

Easy to demonize Apple, but Steve was a fighter, he saw the opportunity for success and profit, and nobody would expect anything less.

-d

Re:Overly dramatic title (3, Insightful)

tripleevenfall (1990004) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Overly dramatic title (2)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731096)

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.

Re:Overly dramatic title (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731452)

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.

Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730522)

Re:Obligatory XKCD (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730554)

Are you sure that's the right comic for this story?

Re:Obligatory XKCD (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730722)

Is it ever?

Re:Obligatory XKCD (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730994)

If every text book is an internet connected device, where will the addresses come from?

Buy Buy Buy!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730544)

Buy our crap! We'll even market it to you under the guise of furthering education and advancing academics through technology! Buy buy buy! Consumer technology...the new opiate of the masses! All hail Steve Jobs! All hail the overlord!

By the way is Ars Technica an apple dumping grounds for press releases or do they actually do their own stories? From TFA:

Don't expect that content to come directly from Apple, however. "Practically speaking, Apple does not want to get into the content publishing business," MacInnis said. Like the music and movie industries, Apple has instead built a distribution platform as well as hardware to consume itâ"but Apple isn't a record label or production studio.

But what Apple does provide is industry-leading tools for content production, such as Logic or Final Cut Pro, to help create content. The company also produces tools like GarageBand or iMovie that make such production accessible to a much wider audience.

About time ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730548)

My only concern is that the textbooks stay free of advertising for other companies.

Inkling has a great app with rich media textbooks that I believe should set the standard for other publishes. Textbooks should be come Text apps.

Doesn't Matter (1)

Iggyhopper (1880812) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730552)

They will still get deals where required books are overpriced and rereleased.

Re:Doesn't Matter (4, Insightful)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730652)

They will still get deals where required books are overpriced and rereleased.

And DRMed so they self-destruct at the end of the semester.

Re:Doesn't Matter (0)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730752)

Typically written by a prima donna self puffing "professor/Doctor" and in order to fuel his ego he will BAN laptops and tablets in his lectures forcing students to buy his $350.00 book on, "Pharmacology of nano participatory physics and their accounting procedures as applied to the business world, 15th edition."

Then he will spend the entire semester lecturing about things not in the book, the book is never really used but he is a prick and will DOCK you points if you do not bring it to every lecture and have it in view.

Yes I remember my college days.

Re:Doesn't Matter (1)

jddeluxe (965655) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730764)

no doubt...

I wonder if the textbook industry... (3, Insightful)

forkfail (228161) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Don't we already have that? (3, Insightful)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730570)

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.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

Iggyhopper (1880812) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730628)

No we don't. The editor will adapt or die.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730710)

Editors frequently freelance as it is. It's mostly just small and medium sized publishing houses that employ their own editors.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730678)

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.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731250)

Does this count?

http://www.amazon.com/LOLcat-Bible-beginnin-Ceiling-stuffs/dp/1569757348 [amazon.com]

"Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. ..."

Re:Don't we already have that? (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730724)

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!

Re:Don't we already have that? (2)

punisher777 (2462418) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730744)

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 decide if they want to read a 1000 page epic about cats. Also, it is quite easy to allow your source to be edited by the masses like Wikipedia so that you get the best of crowdsourcing.

Re:Don't we already have that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730818)

There were mp3 players before the iPod.

Marketing: Make outrageous claims
Successful Marketing: Get taken seriously

Re:Don't we already have that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730864)

No. PDFs are ugly for electronic layout. There's no ability to re-flow the text or make other adjustments for the size of the screen or different layouts (think landscape or portrait orientation, personal preference for font size, etc.). PDFs do a great job of capturing the static layout on a piece of paper, but they're horribly underdeveloped for electronic text more generally. Zooming in and out on a static piece of paper is not ideal. e-PUB is much better, but the tools for creating it properly are fairly technical. A tool to make it easy for regular people would probably be welcomed.

Text has been and always will be only as good as the composer, editor, and layout makes it. If you lower the technical challenge to doing it, yes, there will be 1000-page rambling epics about cats. But that's no different from the situation for audio or video. Putting an audio or video recorder into people's hands doesn't make them fine artists either (see: YouTube). Whether it is a well-tuned and practiced orchestra or a crude scrape across an instrument will determine whether plenty of people pay for the performance or ignore it, but there's nothing wrong with lowering the technical hurdles it takes to give it a try. There's also a huge financial incentive to cut out the over-inflated costs introduced by the middle man (i.e. publishers). Yes, the conventional publishers do filter for quality and add editorial value, but they also take a HUGE cut of the profits.

Re:Don't we already have that? (5, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730974)

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.

You don't have an eReader obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731054)

PDF sucks for everything but printing. Period.

They don't render well and converting them makes crap.

No one can convert a PDF and make it look good on an eReader.

Nope. Not gonna happen. I've tried.

PDF is a printer format and that;s it.

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731292)

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 microstripline design. Click here to add a 3 page standardized set of smith chart practical exercises...

Re:Don't we already have that? (1)

snero3 (610114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731308)

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

Change of format != change of price (1)

omganton (2554342) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730590)

Oh good, now I can spend $400 on a textbook that I don't even get the pleasure of burning when I'm done with it.

Re:Change of format != change of price (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730618)

iPads burn. Just don't breath the smoke.

Re:Change of format != change of price (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730794)

People love to quote this $400... I've never seen an undergraduate textbook that costs more than $200. Now, that's still a lot, but the same book can often be had for very cheap used from a previous student or off Amazon. The only textbooks I've seen that cost more than that are graduate level medical textbooks which are honestly worth keeping.

Re:Change of format != change of price (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731028)

So, you managed to get through colledge and being an undergrad with only a single $200 textbook? Wow! That must've been one honkin' huge book- and such generous portions!

Re:Change of format != change of price (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731172)

Way to read something that wasn't written. Try again, but this time use your brain.

Re:Change of format != change of price (2)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731364)

People love to quote this $400... I've never seen an undergraduate textbook that costs more than $200.

Donaldson and Dunfee, Ethics in Business and Economics, is $680 on Amazon. (But it ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping!) Gotta love the combination of price and title.

In any case, even $200 is totally unacceptable.

Now, that's still a lot, but the same book can often be had for very cheap used from a previous student or off Amazon.

The publishers have gotten very good at killing off the used book market. They bring out a new edition every couple of years, making just enough superficial changes to discourage people from using an old edition. For example, in a math textbook they'll rearrange all the homework problems so the numbers are different.

Houghton Mifflin responds "Not so fast" (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730626)

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.

Re:Houghton Mifflin responds "Not so fast" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730816)

Not that I'm aware of, but I've been out of the College Textbook industry for coming up on 10 years. The most _we_ ever did was ensure that the profs got extra copies of the books (that they'd sell to a book reseller), plus tons of ancillaries (test banks, computer-based tests, teacher's manuals, slide decks, etc).

Re:Houghton Mifflin responds "Not so fast" (4, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731176)

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.

Re:Houghton Mifflin responds "Not so fast" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731268)

I've been a college professor for nine years, and I've never been offered money by a textbook publisher to use their book. Nor, to my knowledge, has my department ever been offered such money. And were I to ever be offered such money, I would immediately refuse to adopt any textbooks by that publisher ever again.

College textbook publishing may be a dirty industry, but I don't think it's that dirty.

I'm skeptical (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730654)

E-readers (and laptops, for that matter) are great for text that can be consumed quickly, including essentially all news stories, blogs, promotional materials, forums, light fiction, and non-fiction of the "layman's breezy guide to complex hairy subject" variety.

A real textbook is meant to be read sloooowly. Print works very well for that.

BTW when is the paperless office going to be here? We've been waiting on that for awhile.

Re:I'm skeptical (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731472)

If you can read a dead-tree book sloooowly, you can read an e-reader slooowly too. It doesn't even use any extra power to do so (unless you bought one of those stupid color e-readers, but they'll have color e-ink technology pretty soon).

Yeah sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730662)

Too bad it will only work on iDevices.

Re:Yeah sure... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730732)

You're right....Apple could have 3, maybe 4 more customers if it was also available on Android!

Steve's Right (4, Interesting)

milbournosphere (1273186) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

the lack of simple digital publishing tools? (2)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:the lack of simple digital publishing tools? (0, Flamebait)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731234)

It's typical Apple propaganda. In the beginning, there was nothing. Then Apple said... you know the rest.

The problem with college textbooks (2)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

The problems you speak of... (1)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730890)

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.

Re:The problem with college textbooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730942)

Actually the huge problem is that you'll be hard pressed to find a singe college or university that doesn't make a huge sum of money selling new text books and even more money selling used textbooks. If you think they are going to role over and give up that money to Apple or anyone else your delusional. They'll just switch to some other printed textbook. On the off chance they can't get their money from text books they'll add course fees to the classes that use ebooks to recoup their loses.

Re:The problem with college textbooks (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731090)

The company I work for does produce among other things, college textbooks, but the colleges don't get a dime. We charge everyone the same amount, whether you are an individual, or a huge bookstore chain like B&N.

Re:The problem with college textbooks (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731246)

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 cycles slowed or we will hyper accelerate them through things like khan academy and wikipedia.

Cool title for an executive . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730802)

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!"

WikiBooks and other sources (2)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Apple, the savior? (1, Troll)

DogDude (805747) | more than 2 years ago | (#38730850)

This made me laugh. Yes, the overpriced textbook industry that charges people almost annually for minor updates will be destroyed by the overpriced electronic gadget company that charges people almost annually for minor updates. Fantastic. That's a real step forward.

Re:Apple, the savior? (1)

BoberFett (127537) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731056)

What I wouldn't give for a mod point right now...

I wish them well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730906)

I'm no Apple fan, in fact I don't own any of their products and hate the walled-garden iphone ecosystem.

But if Apple can violently rape the textbook publishers and give them the messiest Dirty Sanchez in history, I will cheer them on.

Bookboon.com (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730940)

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

Interesting, but still probably doomed. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38730962)

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 sell this via iBooks/Kindle/etc, the biggest problem is that bookstore - the reason for a new edition every 2 years was to combat the used book market. Sure, things got tweaked, but it was to make sure people kept buying the book. They make a LOT of money by physically holding those books for a few weeks. And if a publisher went digital to cut the bookstores out of the market - well, the bookstores would decide they wouldn't carry ANY books by that publisher, and the publisher would Go Away. (Supposedly this happened once in the early 90s, though I don't know who.)

But if Apple got involved? They could bring a lot of muscle to bear, since this isn't Sink Or Swim for them. That being said, the bookstores would still boycott the publisher, etc, etc.

Sidenote: the publisher I worked for had come up with a solution, albeit with lock-in. Pay X dollars per student, get access to all of our books. I'm sure there was a discount. I'm sure everyone here can see the problems with that, though it's the only halfway-decent scheme I saw.

It's not all the Textbook publshers' fault (1, Interesting)

MuChild (656741) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731012)

I work for a major textbook publisher that makes some of (albeit the cheapest) those textbooks.I admit that the system is broken, but the impression that the publishers are gouging the students is not entirely fair. The bookstores on campus with monopolies on their local markets and used book sales through nation-wide aggregators are a large part of the problem. All that is before we even get to piracy.

Also, textbooks these days come with a wide range of additional print and on-line resources like study guides, course management and homework systems, videos, etc. that are usually bundled with the book for "free." (I'm not going to insult you and suggest these add-ons don't effect the price of the book, but their value generally far outweighs the price)

If you want someone to blame, talk to the people who run your local bookstores.

So we're to trust apple with publishing ? (3, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731060)

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 ?

Ripped from the hands of Texas (2)

vaene (1981644) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731086)

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.

the future (1, Funny)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731132)

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"

Apple could make an author environment (1)

jclaer (306442) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731178)

If I give a lecture, it's easy to record and distribute my face, voice, and slides, but the pointer position is lost. And that's half the drama!

How about a reader. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38731182)

I love ebooks. Lets open this epub book on my macbook.... oh wait, Apple doesn't have a reader for it.

text book scumbags. (1)

nblender (741424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731212)

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..

Knock-on Effect (2)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Used book market (1)

love05mustang (1023253) | more than 2 years ago | (#38731350)

The used book market is thriving, and if you think you are forced to buy books from the College store then crawl out of under that rock! This is a ploy by $Apple$ to have the book publishers lunch plain and simple with a change of format (read +DRM) that in the long run leaves people no better off, more likely worse off! Not sure about you folks' college experience, but I made the mistake of buying books at the College store only once. Every semester after freshman year, I'd ask professor if the book was required, obtain the ISBNs for necessary books and compare prices of new/used on Amazon or Addall.com and pick a winner. For most engineering and science books I'd save $50-100 per title. In grad school it got a little tough since topics were specialized, but still found a way. At the end of the year I would keep most of books that I liked or were good references and sell the rest on Amazon. 5 yrs later that IC design book bought for $75 saved my ass in a job interview, try doing that in 2017 with the ebook you bought yesterday!
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