Apple has high hopes that its move into digital textbooks for the iPad will impress educators enough to for them to realize the late Steve Jobs' vision and corner a potentially lucrative K-12 market. Jobs wanted to transform a multibillion-dollar textbook market from being about the physical to the virtual.
In January, the Cupertino, Calif., company announced iBooks 2, a digital textbook service in partnership with three big publishers that dominate the K-12 market. The electronic books will sell for $14.99.
However, the dream of an iPad filled classroom may still be some way off as the details are proving to be a sticking point. When a school buys a physical textbook it gets loaned to the student for the year and hopefully returned in a usable condition to passed on to next year's students. Ownership rights aren't so simple with virtual material, however. Online services for music and games have effectively changed the industry so that instead of the consumer owning a physical copy which they can then giveaway or sell on when they're done with the product, they now merely own a license to play the game or the music themselves. Music and game producers are happy to have effectively destroyed the second-hand market that they had no percentage in, however translating this policy to schoolbooks is unlikely to be popular.
It means that every year the school district will have to pay another $14.99 per student, never actually owning the book, as they purchases vouchers to enable the students to download the textbook to their own individual iTunes accounts. This is on top of the $499 cost per iPad needed for the classroom.
Asked if Apple would consider cutting prices for the iBook, as it's calling its digital textbooks, for bulk purchases, spokeswoman Christine Monaghan said, "It's $14.99 and you're asking for a discount?"
This model is unlikely to be feasible for many schools already suffering sizable budget gaps in a harsh economic climate, especially as many have already spent money on textbooks. However, as drives to populate classrooms with modern technology, including iPads are becoming more popular, in time it is likely that the initial hardware outlay won't be as high.
Some schools already have the technical infrastructure in place and as textbooks fall apart may choose to replace them with digital versions.
Viewed this way Jobs' vision seems an inevitability, just on a slower timescale than Apple are hoping for.