Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Morning Brief: Should university bookstores hate the iPad? (no); the meaning of life and The Rockford Files

Yesterday Fortune's website posted a story from contributor John Patrick Pullen: Why universities should hate the iPad. I don't know if this is one of those cases where the editors have done a great disservice to the author, or whether the author really thinks university bookstores will be greatly effected by the launch of a tablet reader.
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In any case, Pullen quotes some stats from the National Association of College Stores about the size of the textbook market, and states that some have forecast dramatic growth in the e-book versions of textbooks. But I got the feeling early in the story that Pullen doesn't actually own an iPad himself -- there was no examples of textbooks on the tablet, and no mention of how the iPad itself would be a game changer.

In fact, as I predicted months ago, textbooks will not be one of those areas dramatically effected by the iPad. It's not that students won't read books on the device, its just that textbook publishers have such a strangle hold on the pricing and availability of their products that it doesn't seem likely that there will be much price pressure arising that will force reduced pricing. The CourseSmart app for the iPad, which I looked at a month ago, has pricing around the same levels as Kindle editions from Amazon.

A far more disruptive development may be Amazon's new textbook buyback program which could directly effect university bookstores.

Buried below the major headlines of the day, the New York Times posted a story that talks about the work of a group of scientist that are trying to answer the question "why do we exist?"
In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.
Me, too.

Here is another big question: NBC is considering reviving "The Rockford Files" -- why?

In the meantime, producer Dick Wolf wants to find a new home for "Law & Order" now that NBC has canceled it.

Retweet: The Times ran a column in its Sunday edition that compares the state of the U.S. newspaper industry to that of Germany.

Depending on your perspective, either this would be your money quote:
Most German newspapers are owned by family concerns or other small companies with local roots, but the American industry is dominated by publicly traded chains. Under pressure from shareholders clamoring for short-term results, the study contends, U.S. newspapers made reckless cuts in editorial and production quality, hastening the flight of readers and advertisers to the Web.
Or this:
Instead of focusing on journalism, the report says, U.S. newspapers also made unwise investments in new media, and compounded the damage by giving away their contents free on the Internet.
Having worked in the publishing industry for the past 30 years I would tend to vote in favor on quote number one. But you can decide.

1 Comment:

John Patrick Pullen said...

Hi there, and thanks for covering and discussing my story. I appreciate you leaving open the possibility that editors did my work a disservice, but that's not the case.

Instead, the fact is that books on tablets will be disruptive to the current college bookstore sales model, unless stores can find a way to retain some of the profits that they'll lose as students move to this channel. This fact was stated by everyone interviewed for the story. The size of this disruption is unclear at this time, but everyone interviewed said it was inevitable that students will move to digital books to some degree. That said, not all students will move to tablets specifically, and it will be some time (if ever) before physical texts disappear.

You say, "I got the feeling early in the story that Pullen doesn't actually own an iPad himself -- there was no examples of textbooks on the tablet, and no mention of how the iPad itself would be a game changer."

It's irrelevant whether or not I own an iPad (I don't), because at this time no textbooks have been ported to the iPad as an app (hence no examples). Yes, there are e-books and content portals, but many publishers are moving toward an app model with their content. And if you missed mention of how the iPad would be a game changer, then it seems that you've missed the entire point of the article.

But you are correct to say that Amazon's textbook buyback program will also hurt publishers. Like the iPad, this -- and many other web based services that are unaffiliated with colleges -- is another example of students using an outside channel that has disrupted the college store sales model. Unfortunately, the article was about the iPad and tablets, not about the many other market forces currently challenging the college bookstore.

Many thanks for reading and posting this story for your readers to follow. --jpp