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February 29 2012

Customized self-publishing is the future of textbooks

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


The textbook publishing market is ripe for reinvention. Everyone complains about the high prices and low resale values. The conversion to digital should change all that, right? In this interview, I talk with John Conley, vice president of publishing and commercial print at Xerox. Conley has worked extensively in the textbook sector and shares his thoughts on where we are today and what's likely to change in the future.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Textbooks taking on less of a role in higher-ed — They may not completely disappear but textbooks will lose their spot as the primary teaching element in many courses. [Discussed at the 3:04 mark.]
  • The K-12 shift will take longer — Budgets, regulatory issues, etc., mean the transition from print to digital won't happen anytime soon. [Discussed at 3:30.]
  • "Customized self-publishing" is the future — It's all about instructors having access to a large repository of content that they can build their own custom solutions around. [Discussed at 4:43.]
  • Is $14.99 the e-textbook price of the future? — Apple took a page out of Amazon's playbook by introducing the first wave of iBooks Author-created textbooks at $14.99. Even the initial $9.99 price for most Kindle titles has crept up, thanks to the agency model, and $14.99 isn't likely to become the standard e-textbook price. [Discussed at 8:12.]
  • Native app vs. HTML5 or EPUB 3 — It's not so much about the platform architecture as it is about the content and how cost-effective that platform is. [Discussed at 17:10.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

Related:

January 26 2012

Why the fuss about iBooks Author?

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("iBooks Author: Appreciating Apple's Intent"). It's republished with permission.

iBooks AuthorApple's recent announcement and release of its iBooks Author tool was met with plenty of controversy. This HuffPost article pretty well sums things up.

My question is simply this: Why all the fuss? Apple's intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry. Just like Amazon and any other ebook vendor, Apple's goal is to capture share of this rapidly growing segment. In Apple's case, it simply decided to offer an authoring tool that's capable of creating some pretty darned cool products. If Amazon were to do the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format, would the industry be as upset? I don't think so.

How is this any different from the App Store model itself? Developers are creating apps for the App Store, and they know they'll only run on an iOS device. They also realize they'll have to go through Apple's approval process before getting into the App Store.

Prior to the release of iBooks Author, the content creation and distribution model looked like this:

  1. Author writes material in favorite word processor.
  2. Author/publisher edit and convert that content into mobi format for distribution on Amazon, EPUB format for distribution through iBookstore and others, etc.

The exact same model still exists today, even with the introduction of iBooks Author. That's right. Apple's EULA doesn't really lock you into its distribution channel for your content. That restriction only applies to a "book or other work you generate using [the iBooks Author] software." All Apple's really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of its tool to create content for other distribution channels. OK, that's kind of annoying, but far from the lock-in nightmare so many people are describing it as. Based on my interpretation, you're able to use the same content as input to the iBooks Author tool as you'd use for a mobi-formatted product you want to sell on Amazon.

(I should also point out that I'm far from an Apple fanboy. Anyone who knows me realizes I dumped my iPhone last year for an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II (and yes, I love it). I also tried to dump my iPad for a Kindle Fire but found the Fire user experience to be very disappointing. I'll probably make the jump to another Android tablet later this year, once key apps like Zite are available. In the meantime though, I want to make it clear I'm not here to shill for Apple. If anything, I'm currently in a stage where I'd prefer to buy devices that aren't made by the content providers. Samsung is high on my list, for example.)

Apple doesn't have an objective to move the publishing industry forward. It sees an opportunity to reinvent this industry, and it feels it can do so within its own, closed ecosystem. It's as simple as that, and it's consistent with everything it has done in the App Store up to now.

Let's also not forget that the iBooks Author tool is free. It's not like we paid Apple $50, $100 or more for some authoring tool that we thought could work for all content formats and distribution channels. If the tool's feature set is compelling enough, I'd like to think the other ebook vendors (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, etc.) will have to come up with something at least as powerful for their own platforms. If not, they get left in the dust and Apple gains share. Seems pretty fair to me.

In the meantime, I plan to do some hands-on testing with iBooks Author. At first, I was discouraged because you can't download iBooks Author unless you're running Lion. I'm still on Snow Leopard, but an O'Reilly colleague sent me this link that shows you how to tweak a couple of settings so you can download and run iBooks Author on a Snow Leopard system. I just tried it, and it works fine. (You just have to carefully read and interpret the steps since it's a translation from French to English.)

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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