Apple aims to update, not upend, the textbook industry

Beleaguered college students may be vying for the reshaping of the textbook industry, but it won't happen during Apple's announcement tomorrow.
Written by Ricardo Bilton, Contributor

With Apple's Thursday announcement drawing near, two different takes have emerged on what the company has planned.

On one hand you have reports that Apple's announcement will mark a sea change for the textbook industry that the textbook themselves won't been too happy with.

That's the interpretation of, for example, TechCrunch's John Biggs, who sees Apple's announcement as something that will shut down the textbook sales market. Biggs writes:

The biggest racket in publishing – textbook sales – is apparently going to be shut down by Apple this Thursday as they announce what many are calling “GarageBand for books:” a system for authoring and selling ebooks that is so simple that even the benighted publishing industry will shift their brandy in their large crystal glasses and admit, between toots of Adderall, that these Apple fellows are onto something with this whole ebook business. And, just like that, their industry will change overnight.

It's fair to say that that end isn't entirely likely.

In fact, the situation will probably swing in the opposite direction: Rather than actively work against publishers, Apple's Thursday announcement bring the two entities closer together.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that McGraw-Hill has been working with Apple on the upcoming announcement since June of last year. Textbook publisher Cengage Learning is also expected to be at the event, the Journal reports.

So, no, the textbook industry isn't set to be upended. In fact, working with Apple is one of the best things that could happen to it.

As ZDNet's Jason D. O'Grady noted in a post on Tuesday, working with Apple will give publishing companies the chance to end one of its most significant troubles: the resale market. Seeing as how publishers are completely cut out of second hand sales, a move to digital would change that half of the equation. It's a win-win for them.

And it's a win, too, for Apple, which will almost certainly take the same 30% cut out of textbook sales as it does with other partners.

Apple's textbook ambitions will certainly make life a bit easier for students. Backpacks will get lighter, the learning experience better, and, hopefully, the prices significantly cheaper.

Unfortuatnely, that last one is a bit up in the air. While digital textbooks remove the need for printing, binding, and distribution, chances are that textbook publishers aren't going to let prices drop too much.

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