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How iPads Are Finding Footing In The Indiana E-Textbook Market

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Apple announces its new digital textbooks at the Guggenheim in New York.

A number of Indiana schools have invested in bulk purchasing iPad’s for students, often with the help of state or federal grants. Indiana University-Bloomington has a number of iPad-specific projects, including a class that focuses on creating app-based “textbooks” for the iOS platform.

Big name textbook publishers like Pearson and McGraw-Hill have also dived into iPad textbook world with iBook releases of many of their main products.

All of this seems to point to Mac’s present and likely future domination of the e-textbook market, but hold on…

The School’s Perspective?

The Richland Bean Blossom Community School Corporation recently used a state technology grant to purchase iPads for all of the corporations 8th graders. The platform was chosen after teachers were allowed to experiment with a variety of options. Surprisingly, it was not the iPad’s slick design, touchscreen controls, or nifty app-based learning tools that won over educators.

“The iPad has a 10 hour battery life,” says Tara Renard, director of technology services for the district “Most of the teachers preferred that over the Netbook, which had a five hour battery life.”

In terms of curriculum, Renard says the district has been very careful not to build around the iPad. All of RBB’s e-learning tools work on any computer platform, whether that be Mac OS, Windows, iPad, or Android.

“We’re hedging our bets,” says Renard. “There is so much happening that we don’t want to be tied to any one machine.”

However, Renard says there is one feature of the Apple iPad that stands out from the crowd. iPublish 2 allows educators to create and distribute their own e-textbooks.  Renard says she foresees a world where educators will be able to custom tailor their course work to each individual class.

The Publisher’s Perspective?

Kathryn Caras has been obtaining and editing e-books for Indiana University Press for 12 years. She says there’s value to vetting which books reach the academic and textbook marketplace.

“When you buy an IU Press book, our imprint has a value,” says Caras. “We’ve quantified and qualified the content in it. If you buy one of our books on African Studies, you know that scholars in the field have read that book and said we agree. I don’t think you’re going to get that with iBooks.”

In fact, Apple’s iPublish 2 software allows unmitigated access to the iBook marketplace. In the past, it was a long labyrinthine process getting books onto the iBook market.  It involved petitioning the Library of Congress for an isbn number, employing one of a group of third party companies to make the necessary file conversions to the Apple format and eventually dealing with some of the more complicated functions on iTunes.

Now, any high school teacher or college professor in the country can toss their notes into iPublish and Apple will print and sell them as an e-textbook on the iBook marketplace.

Apple says this will allow educators to customize textbooks to individual courses and even classes, but Caras questions whether it’s necessary or whether it will simply lead to abuse.

“It’s another form of vanity publishing,” says Caras. “I don’t think the Apple imprint will ever hold the same cachè as Indiana University Press or any other academic publishers.”

That being said, Indiana University Press does publish in the iBook format, among several others. Caras says it’s a question of distribution. Until Apple rises as a clear winner over competitors like Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook, the venerable university publisher will continue to release works in as many e-book formats as possible.

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