A few years ago when a larger, textbook-sized version of the Kindle was released I called it “the beginning of the end for textbooks.” While the Kindle DX still exists, it is not currently advertised as a part of the “Kindle Family” on the Amazon homepage. Bigger, it seems, is not necessarily more popular. Two years ago, Apple unveiled the iPad, which also had potential for supplanting textbooks through its color screen and Apple’s media connections. Last week, Apple took its biggest step yet in that direction, revealing an updated version of its iBooks software (conveniently named “iBooks 2”) that is designed to make it easier to create textbook content for iPads. This extends beyond large companies to individuals who want to format course materials by embedding things like media and PDFs.
Given complaints about the (ever-increasing) costs of textbooks, the idea that digitized textbooks could be cheaper for students is promising. Of course, digitized textbooks give publishers more control over their product by reducing or eliminating students’ ability to resell their books at the end of the semester. Digitized textbooks, whether through an iPad, a Kindle, or a Nook, also increase the up-front costs for students to varying degrees. This may not be an issue for college students, who spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks in a given semester, but cost is a serious barrier to the adoption of digitized textbooks at the K-12 levels (and is even more problematic when damage and replacement costs are considered). I’m also in agreement with Kieran at Crooked Timber that we likely do not need videos and other crap clogging up our educational materials (as in Al Gore’s iPad “book”).
Two years after its announcement, I still don’t have an iPad. I’m actually much more interested in the ability to read and annotate PDF versions of journal articles than I am in the ability to create media-rich readings for my students. Nevertheless, I still think that my prediction from the iPad’s reveal could come true. At the time, I wrote, “In 2015 I’ll probably look back at this post from my own iPad while my students complete the course readings and take class notes on their own iPads and laugh at how foolish I was.” If prices can come down and devices like these can achieve ubiquity among students, last week’s Apple announcement may become the middle of the end for traditional textbooks.