The Fatal Flaw with iPad Textbooks for K-12 Education

| Analysis

Wow! I just heard all the announcements from the education event this morning and one thing hit me over the head like a bag of bricks:

They are selling K-12 books in the iBookstore for $15.00 or under.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see the flaw in this argument? …… We’ll wait…..

A full 90% of K-12 students in the US attend public schools. Public schools are state and partially federally funded. They cannot (as I pointed out earlier) require, ask or even beg an individual student to spend one penny of his or her own money on anything having to do with curriculum. 

Just who does Apple think will be buying these Textbooks? The presentation made it seems that the onus would be on the individual student. The student will buy the books and own it forever on their own iPad.  There are a lot of assumptions in that statement. Let’s deconstruct them.

Students have iPads

Yes, I’m sure that many do, but to use a book as the main book in a core class, it means that everyone has an iPad. I don’t think so.

Schools will magically decide that the book offered in the iBookstore is what they want to use

Ever been in a faculty meeting? Ever dealt with a book that’s been used for decades and tried to change it? Ever killed a long-term relationship with a textbook vendor than may or may not include a perk or two?  I didn’t think so.

Schools will change their book acquisition and funding model overnight because Apple wills it.

“These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along. Move along.” This just isn’t going to happen. I could write endlessly on why it won’t happen, but is that really necessary? It will require a major seed change (which is an eggcorn for sea change) on how administrations and public education in general work. 

Private Schools 

Here we have no problem. Everything is peachy. For the 10% of these students who have to buy their own books Apple may well have a market. But was Apple going for a 10% market or for a 100% market. This is a rhetorical question, but for those in public schools, as Rodney Dangerfield said in Back to School: Shakespeare for Everyone.

Comments

Odin

Yes, I do believe you are missing the point. I seriously don’t think Apple is trying to get k-12 students to buy textbooks. This is a two pronged attack.

They have college texts available all ready as well. If they can get colleges to use these texts, from major manufactures, then that money will be made.

However, more important to the point made, school districts are currently dumping money into 1;1 adoptions of iPads. A local school district recently purchased 7000 of the devices. More districts will be looking at the cost benefit in buying the devices in order to save money on texts as well as the other benefits students derive from the device being placed in the hands of the students.

Money will be made in the k-12 market by selling to districts. Not students.

FlipFriddle

I think they are going for college students and as a side business created a tool to make it easy for ANYONE to create an eBook which until now hasn’t been the case.
Given that the State of NY pays more than $20,000/year per public school student throwin an iPad in for each of the little buggers wouldn’t up the bill too much and it couldn’t make our already atrocious return on our education investment any worse. smile

lucidthinker

I think that the greatest penetration will be in colleges at first. Students are already required to buy their own text books and the cost of a single text book can run over $100 especially to medical and other science related textbooks. In the college scenario, the cost of the iPad will pay for itself in two semesters if not a single semester.

In K-12, an average textbook costs like $75 per book. Say you have 6 textbooks per student. The cost to outfit a K-12 student with a full set of textbooks $450 not counting accounting for replacing books damaged in a myriad of ways. Going the iPad route, you’re talking $450 (assuming an educational discount) for an ipad and $90 for a set of iBook Texbooks for a total of $540 vs. $450 for traditional set of textbooks. So, the cost disparity isn’t as vast as some people think.

Of course, the iPad opens up possibilities not possible using traditional textbooks. I do think that it WILL take time as school districts are slow to move on all things technology. But, give it time.

serandip

I assume that some students in public schools may want to buy a different book that helps them learn the material better. 

These e-textbook can appeal to students with multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, etc).  By making the max price of each book $ 15 it makes it possible to own multiple books for the same subject.

Students will not have to be stuck with one explanation of material, they can learn from many different explanations.

Tulse

They cannot (as I pointed out earlier) require, ask or even beg an individual student to spend one penny of his or her own money on anything having to do with curriculum.

Are you saying that schools don’t currently buy textbooks?  No one is saying that students or their parents will be out of pocket for the textbooks.  The school can provide the student with a redemption code to download the book, or it can simply set up the device prior to the school year with all the books on it.  A $15 textbook is far cheaper than their paper equivalent (even without factoring in the huge shipping costs of transporting dead trees).  While the financial details will have to be worked out to see whether iPad + digital texts are cheaper than paper books, it is not unreasonable to think that overall schools will save money, or at least break even.

Really?

If a K-12 textbook cost’s an average of $75.00 and those books are used on average 5 years (many schools keep them longer), than the cost to the school per year is…$15.00 the same cost as the digital copy.  You still have to pay for the ipad $500!  There is no cost savings!  The publisher still get’s the $75 bucks over the same 5 year period.  Instead of selling one physical book every five years they can sell 5 digital licenses over 5 years. 

The reason Apple wants to sell the book to the student is so they can sell a new book each year to say, a new tenth grader.  Don’t be fooled, schools will not be able to buy one book and use it multiple years with multiple students like they do with physical textbooks.  Shiller made it clear that the textbook stays with the student.  Nice Spin by the way!

kevinlane

Nothing in today’s announcement that can’t be worked out by any forward-thinking K-12 school district.  Districts that are turf-protective, unimaginative, politically stagnated, or technophobic will, of course, ignore what Apple has to offer.  And sure, there are plenty of districts that fit into one or more of those categories.

But there are also many districts (and many teachers within those districts) who are convinced that education HAS to change in the way instruction is delivered and students are engaged and assessed.  The one-size-fits-all straight jacket that we call No Child Left Behind has choked the life out of real life-long learning.

Jeremy Englert

Why would the entire class need to have the iPad version of the book? From my understanding, book publishers are going to be turning their already printed books into the digital format. This means that students would be able to use the digital iTunes copy or the regular printed copy. The student with the iPad version would simply have more content available to them.

brett_x

Schools will change their book acquisition and funding model overnight because Apple wills it.

?These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along. Move along.? This just isn?t going to happen. I could write endlessly on why it won?t happen, but is that really necessary?

Um, as the author of an opinion article, I think the answer is “yes”.  I could write endlessly on why I you should, but is that really necessary?

I came to this article to be enlightened. And you did not do that.

geoduck

I think you may be missing the biggest part of the announcement

<$15 per book

I can see districts with tight budgets (let’s see, that would be all of them) salivating over dropping their cost for books AND being able to keep the texts more current. Even if only half or a third of the students have iPads, this is a biog cost savings.

mhikl

Such thoughts crossed my mind but I let them sit as I experienced the presentation. But I realise that, hey, it’s a new world and you don’t build such a thing over night or in one presentation.

Apple has the book sellers on board and it looks amazing. Now it is up to Apple to get a few school boards on board and iron out the wrinkles at that end of the equation. And such won?t come over night just as getting to where Apple textbooks is now didn?t happen over night.

Pricing is per individual book purchase. There will be parents who want their kid’s science book on their own iPad so they can prepare to help with homework. Some may even want the curriculum choice from another textbook company for extra exercises and information. Schools may get the books for student’s iPads cheaper in bulk and may have means of distributing them to the appropriate students? iPads. Distribution of iPad texts will be worked out and costs covered by the school and district. And getting iPads into the hands of students is another part of the scenario that will be worked out.

This presentation is the beginning and more steps are sure to come. I think it’s a pretty grand first step.

webjprgm

Hmm, two TMO writers look at this and think Apple’s approach seems flawed.  After reading the comments here, though, it actually doesn’t sound too bad.

Potential Flaw: Cost
- K-12 textbook cost amortized over 5 years is about the same as $15 iBook cost
- An iPad per student might be too expensive in some cases, but some districts are already doing 1:1 iPad purchases and for all the rest, if the books are generally equivalent to printed books then the students with their own iPad get the iBook redemption code and the rest get the physical book

Potential Flaw: Adoption
- Yeah, schools will be slow-moving on this.  But given the right pushes from the right people and publishers, things will move this direction over time.  Optimistically this will be sooner than expected. Pessimistically this will be one generation, long enough for the current school admins to have retired.

Potential Flaw: iPad exclusivity
- This one I don’t like, but if the same books could be published in limited form via physical copies and, even better, in ePub and PDF formats, then there’s at least some element of choice.

Is that a reasonable summary?

Lee Dronick

Let us not forget the parents who home school, but also those who home school in addition to their children attending a neighborhood school.

geoduck

One thing I DO see as a huge problem is that many areas select textbooks on a state level. Changing to something like this will require parting the seas and reformatting loaves into fishes. As one friend of mine said years ago “The textbook selection committee meets once every hundred years and to be on the committee you have to have attended the previous meeting.” Especially in overly conservative areas <cough> Texas, Kansas <cough> getting something like this adopted could be nearly impossible. On the other hand this might be an opportunity for the rest of us to get textbooks not limited by what the flat earth society in those areas forces the publishers to put on dead trees.

booked

I would love to see a study on how well tablets are holding up in the public school system.

Imagine a loaded bus with 70 students and their iPads on board.  It’s almost a given at least one tablet on board will be broken.

If a book gets sat on or stepped on or wet, no big deal.  Not so much the case with a $500 tablet…

MOSiX Man

Don?t be fooled, schools will not be able to buy one book and use it multiple years with multiple students like they do with physical textbooks.? Shiller made it clear that the textbook stays with the student.

That would be if the student were the owner of the iPad. I think that, in many cases, the iPads will be provided by the schools, and they will remain the owner - hence there will likely be no reason to buy the same iTextbook again. Also, since the books can be updated, the same book will remain current for longer.

MOSiX Man

One other thing to consider, when comparing the cost of traditional schoolbooks vs. an iPad + iBooks: A lot of schools - especially Jr. high and high schools, are providing kids with one set of books to keep in the classroom, and another set to keep at home. That way the kids don’t have to lug around twenty five pounds of books, which can get damaged, misplaced, or simply left at home. The combined cost of two set of books, may be greater than the cost of one iPad and one set of iBooks.

The question then remains - does the student just leave the iPad at school and is expected to have a separate one at home? (Doubtful) Otherwise, does the school check out an iPad to the child, to take home each day? That seems more likely, but it brings up a whole other set of questions - like liability for the iPad once it is in away from the school.

Really?

The ebook will be tied to the student, not the school.  Phil Shiller makes this plain in the 34th minute of the presentation.  The access card will be sold once for each student, not each ipad.  The school (or the student) will need to buy those access cards each year as new students enter that grade.  The students can keep the textbook forever, but they can’t sell it or pass it on to a new student anymore that I can sell or trade a song I buy on itunes.  How else do you think the Big 3 publishers agreed to the deal?  They are still getting the same revenue as before and Apple sells more ipads. My point was that it’s just not cheaper, it’s about $500 more expensive.

AdamC

@really

Stop beating a dead horse, the ebook is owned the ones who own the iPads.

Anyway everyone has a choice and it is not dead ended and a must.

It is just a small step and also to stop killing trees and time to pay back for raping Earth unless you are a proponent of text books in printed form then I have nothing to say except good for you.

Dean Lewis

Others have spoken to most of the article, but I just wanted to make a point about this part:

They cannot (as I pointed out earlier) require, ask or even beg an individual student to spend one penny of his or her own money on anything having to do with curriculum.

This is not true, at least in my state. Up until last year, I worked in a bookstore, and we regularly had middle and high school students come in required to buy certain books for their classes. In our case it was generally classic and contemporary literature, but the occasional science book was required as well. This arrangement had several problems.

First: We were hardly ever notified about which books we needed to have in stock and how many. We often sold out if we even had enough to begin with. I often informed students of The Gutenberg Project where they could get some of the classic works online, but I was told they could not do that because of teachers assigning reading by page numbers, among other things that they really wanted people to have the same publication for.

Second: Some families didn’t have the money for the required text. I had several come in to purchase their book only to find the teacher/school had required a $15 or higher cost version when there was a $4.99 version sitting next to it. Again, they couldn’t purchase the cheaper one due to the way the teachers taught.

Third: I got reports that some teachers were buying the books and selling them out of their classrooms at a marked up price. That, in my opinion, is criminal.

If electronic delivery can alleviate any of those problems above at all, and be built up in the long run to ensure delivery to all schools no matter their income/funding, then this is a success.

AlanInMadrid

I still have books that I bought 20 years ago at uni, and I still use them.  I sometimes lend them to people at work too.  I also have a few I bought 2nd-hand.

Meanwhile my wife has problems with some tracks she downloaded from iTunes for her iPod because she’s installed it on the same iPod too many times.  God knows what would happen if she wanted to keep it for 20 years or more over I don’t know how many computer re-installs and different iPods.

I like the idea of being able to search through books, but there are too many other restrictions for me.

mhikl

Dean, I don?t know what dark age state you live in but I have heard this kind of rant before and most of it is rabble-rousing BS. In a public school with children from all walks of the economic line, the impossible cannot be demanded. In private schools where money is like water to parents, such may be the case but in that universe I have no experience.

In my part of the world, such nonsense would not be put up with by the school board, the parents, the media or the students and I haven?t met or heard of a teacher who sold anything to make a personal profit. Such would not be supported by the school, the district, the union or the other teachers. And such an act would be a glory to any local politician in opposition.

Sheesh!

Dean Lewis said on January 20th, 2012 at 1:05 AM:
And what are you doing at 1:05 AM besides reading and postulating. Any stimulants involved or a recent blow to the head.

rale

Let us not forget the parents who home school

This is a much bigger segment than folks realize. My son, owner of an iPad 2 and father of three, sees this saving his family hundreds of dollars each year, while offering better instructional tools. He is very excited.

The government schools will come around as well, some quicker than others. There’s a lot of entrenchment of special interests to plow through, but, in the end, lower costs and parents demanding the best for their kids will turn the tide. This is the future, tho maybe not the near future.

David Winograd

Yes, I do believe you are missing the point. I seriously don?t think Apple is trying to get k-12 students to buy textbooks. This is a two pronged attack.

They have college texts available all ready as well. If they can get colleges to use these texts, from major manufactures, then that money will be made.

I really hate this commenting system. I’d really love being able to reply to a comment under the comment, but since this is what we have, I’m left with a multi-reply that will be sort of convoluted.

Of course Apple is hitting K-12 to buy textbooks. The eight books they now advertise are ALL l-12 books. My piece was only dealing with K-12 and geared toward public schools. Read my earlier piece on Higher Ed and you’ll see we agree on that.

I assume that some students in public schools may want to buy a different book that helps them learn the material better.?

These e-textbook can appeal to students with multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, etc).? By making the max price of each book $ 15 it makes it possible to own multiple books for the same subject.

I don’t disagree at all. But this is a choice, requires money and is a minuscule market. The Apple I know wants to go for the big bucks.

But there are also many districts (and many teachers within those districts) who are convinced that education HAS to change in the way instruction is delivered and students are engaged and assessed.? The one-size-fits-all straight jacket that we call No Child Left Behind has choked the life out of real life-long learning.

Of course it has to change. But systemic change is not something that comes easy. It never has and never will. It takes a lot of agreement, legal wrangling and time. Just because Apple says something doesn’t make it so.  For a good example of this, go check out the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow longitudinal study. It proved that just putting something out there does not affect learning. The problem is much more complex.

Apple has the book sellers on board and it looks amazing. Now it is up to Apple to get a few school boards on board and iron out the wrinkles at that end of the equation. And such won?t come over night just as getting to where Apple textbooks is now didn?t happen over night.

I totally agree. But it seems that the way they went about it was putting the cart before the horse. The educational ecosystem has to change FIRST before the K-12 textbooks will have much, if any, impact.

Let us not forget the parents who home school, but also those who home school in addition to their children attending a neighborhood school.

Lee. You are absolutely right, but again it’s a teeny weeny market. Apple needs big sales for this thing to work and if the home schoolers are the intended market, they can’t monetize it. Rale said it’s a bigger market than it seems, but in the general scheme of things, when we’re talking percentages of students, it’s still very very small.

One thing I DO see as a huge problem is that many areas select textbooks on a state level. Changing to something like this will require parting the seas and reformatting loaves into fishes.

Geoduck, we are of the same mind on this one. I’ve seen how these committees work and making sausage is pretty by comparison.

This is not true, at least in my state. Up until last year, I worked in a bookstore, and we regularly had middle and high school students come in required to buy certain books for their classes. In our case it was generally classic and contemporary literature, but the occasional science book was required as well. This arrangement had several problems.

Dean. What state are you referring to? I know of New York State not one penny can be taken from a student. Are you referring to a private school? If so, anything goes. Were you working in a school at all. You said that you were in a bookstore. Was it a school bookstore? Could the kids coming in be from private schools? . Mikhi, you said it better than I could.

Lee Dronick

Lee. You are absolutely right, but again it?s a teeny weeny market. Apple needs big sales for this thing to work and if the home schoolers are the intended market, they can?t monetize it. Rale said it?s a bigger market than it seems, but in the general scheme of things, when we?re talking percentages of students, it?s still very very small.

David I was also referring to parents like me who sent my son to public school, but also did a lot of schooling at home. However, pure homeschoolers are a small percentage. As for me I will never stop learning be it in the local community college or on my own; I will be buying text books. Not to forget grand kids to teach, e’er they come.

mhikl

But it seems that the way they went about it was putting the cart before the horse. The educational ecosystem has to change FIRST before the K-12 textbooks will have much, if any, impact.

I don?t see how Apple would have any influence on the educational ecosystem itself (or how it would even go about such a task) but it does, as seen, on textbook developers and sellers. A few schools on their own are getting iPads to their students. I suspect the few will become quite a lot more. What Apple has done is not seeding but rather laying the groundwork so that seeds can take hold.

What will also be of interest is how Amazon is going to react. I suspect unsettled stomaches are being serviced, and then it will be back to blackboard at Amazon headquarters.

I remember all the naysaying about the first iPod and about the iPhone and the iPad. With the iPad the clock has made a substantial jump in the right direction. This project has Steve stamped all over it. This move has been taken because the steps are in place.

Lee, as a teacher, I got your point (. . . public school, but also did a lot of schooling at home. . . ). So many parents want desperately to help their child. It is often up to the teacher to help them realise their goal, especially for parents with their first child. Not every teacher is as well equipped to help in this as s/he should be. As you well know, home assistance is more than just completing homework. Apple?s iPad and this step into textbooks is a gift to this area of education.

Dean Lewis

Dean, I don?t know what dark age state you live in but I have heard this kind of rant before and most of it is rabble-rousing BS.

I live in the dark age state of Oklahoma. rabble rousing? Calling me a liar? Come down here and talk to the school board in Yukon, OK and tell them how enlightened you are and that they should do things the right way. We’ve tried. Maybe you can talk sense to them.

What am I doing at 1:05am? Working at my pissant job, you jerk. Luckily it affords me some time to try to inform people that not everyone has the same laws as they do when it comes to education. But, hey, I guess I’m just a ranter and don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

Sheesh, indeed. Pull your head out of your privilege and realize not everyone lives where you do. Schmuck.

Dean Lewis

Dean. What state are you referring to? I know of New York State not one penny can be taken from a student. Are you referring to a private school? If so, anything goes. Were you working in a school at all. You said that you were in a bookstore. Was it a school bookstore? Could the kids coming in be from private schools? . Mikhi, you said it better than I could.

The state is Oklahoma. The town was Yukon. We also got students from the nearby towns of Mustang and El Reno.

The schools are not private. They are public.

The bookstore is a big chain bookstore—not a school bookstore. And, like I said, we often did not have enough of the books for all of the students because we were never told ahead of time what books and how many to stock. We had to guess. Calling the school to ask would get exasperated sighs and directions to call the individual teachers whenever they were available.

This is not the only town in America that operates this way. I don’t like it. Fat chance trying to fix it. People have tried. But the cries of “I pay too much in taxes!” and “I don’t see what good my tax dollars do!” are louder than “Let’s make sure our children have the tools they need to learn provided to them so they can get on with learning instead of worrying if they have enough to buy that book or if the bookstore even has it.” I don’t even have children, but I’d rather pay the money to get these kids educated properly instead of just warehousing them while the parents work.

zewazir

Reading through the article and responses, I believe a major point has been passed over.  Apple is a HARDWARE company.  We saw the same kind(s) of debate(s) when the iTunes Store first appeared.  People were all about what kind of sales margins, revenues, profit margins, etc. the iTunes Store would generate, and lost focus on the idea that the iTunes Stare was simply a new marketing tool to sell iPods.  Yes, for all the hubris and tracking how fast the bilion-download mark was reached, etc., the bottom line purpose of the iTunes Store was to sell iPods.

And this is what I see here.  The idea of eTexts is to sell iPads to school districts by the bushel basketful.  Schools are already buying SOME iPads, and even some districts have initiated a 1-to-1 iPad program.  Apple wants to encourage this.  Getting more iPads in the hands of more students means, bottom line, MORE iPADS SOLD!!!  That is could, potentially, change the face of education by providing the opportunity for interactive texts books, as opposed to print, along with all the other advantages that eTexts could provide to education - those are all neato-bandito selling points.

But where the rubber meets the road, this is not, really, about selling eTexts, with all the resulting difficulties, costs analyses, going through multiple-levels of curriculum committees, etc.  What it is about is enticing schools, and individuals, to buy more iPads by demonstrating the potentials behind using them in a classroom environment.

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