Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Textbooks come to Apple's iPad tablet through the iTunes app store; major publishers ink deals with ScrollMotion

The media deals are starting to be finalized that will bring textbooks to Apple's new iPad. According to the WSJ (reg.) publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12 have signed agreements with ScrollMotion Inc., a developer of apps for the iPhone, and now the iPad.

While students hope the deals will bring down the prices of textbooks, a more likely scenario is that prices will remain high due to the lack of competition in the industry (a specified textbook generally only has one publisher).

More importantly, while this deal will quickly bring content to the iPad, something very necessary if Apple is to attract buyers for its new device, the porting of textbooks without additional content or capabilities would be the equivalent of magazine publisher's use of flip books -- a poor adaptation of new technology. The WSJ story does say, however,  that the deal "with publishers (will) include applications to let students play video, highlight text, record lectures, take printed notes, search the text, and participate in interactive quizzes to test how much they've learned and where they may need more work."

I have argued here and at MacRumors that the best chance for real innovation will come from newly created book publishing companies that are eager to adopt the multimedia options available to tablet publishers. If ScrollMotion is able to work with publishers to customize their products for the iPad, this could be a good step forward.

ScrollMotion is already one of the largest iPhone app store developers through its books on the iTunes store. Books for iPhone such as Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People sell for $13.99 on iTunes. The same book is available at Amazon for $11.86. The Kindle edition is available for $9.99.  The fiction work Blue Nude can be downloaded for $20.99, while the physical hardcover version is available at Amazon for $17.90.

☜  ScrollMotion is already a leading developer of apps for the iPhone.

Textbook publishers are understandably enthusiastic. "People have been talking about the impact of technology on education for 25 years. It feels like it is really going to happen in 2010," Rik Kranenburg told the WSJ. Kranenburg is the group president of higher education for the education unit of McGraw-Hill.

For publishers, the iPad, and soon to be launched tablets and readers, opens up a new sales channel. Why wouldn't large publishers like McGraw-Hill develop their own in-house capabilities, though? Some argued prior to the introduction of the iPad, that publishers would be risking their franchises by working with Apple. A better question would be why would publishers risk their franchise by not developing their own tablet publishing capabilities? What if ScrollMotion were to be purchased by a publisher, or by Apple?