Apple Carves Inroads In Educational Publishing

Apple announced it is getting into the electronic textbook business. The tech company is releasing new tools that make it easier for publishers to create new interactive textbooks designed to be used on Apple's iPad.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Apple today launched a big initiative to update an old standby, the school textbook. In a splashy announcement, the company released new tools to help publishers create digital content for students. As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, Apple is trying to capitalize on enthusiasm for the iPad in schools and colleges.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Rather than staging this launch in Silicon Valley, Apple chose New York City, home to the publishing industry. Apple's Phil Schiller paid tribute to the school textbooks that millions of students have schlepped to school and to college, but he said they are obsolete.

PHILIP SCHILLER: And if you're a school district that's had a - your budget has been squeezed and you've had to make them last five or six years and hand them from child to child, they get dog-eared and written in and worn. They're just not the ideal modern teaching tool.

ABRAMSON: If you've heard all this before, it's because publishers have been talking about digitizing cumbersome textbooks for years, but Apple says the iPad has changed the equation. The company says there are already 1.5 million iPads in educational settings. That makes this tablet the ideal springboard for getting rid of paper.

SCHILLER: The iPad, on the other hand, is imminently portable. It's a lot more durable than paper and binding. Of course, it's interactive.

ABRAMSON: So Apple today released iBooks Author, a new tool meant to lure publishers into creating new content specifically for the iPad education user. In a glitzy show at New York's Guggenheim Museum, Apple's Roger Rosner showed off the magic that makes it easier to include animation and lots of high tech toys into textbooks and then publish them instantly.

ROGER ROSNER: I just think that's totally awesome. Right?

ABRAMSON: The crowd of publishers and tech gurus went wild. That's because the industry is hoping Apple's involvement will lead more businesses into what has been a relatively small pond.

Forrester research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says, up until now, publishers have been mostly focused on adapting existing texts to computers.

SARAH ROTMAN EPPS: But they're not new content created specifically for the platform. That content exists also, but in much smaller numbers.

ABRAMSON: Apple's publishing tool is available today for free. The books that result from this effort will be sold in a new and improved iBook store. The company also announced upgrades to iTunes University, which already holds thousands of college lectures.

Truth is, a lot of companies already offer some of the features Apple is rolling out, such as the ability to build flashcards or take notes digitally. Osman Rashid is founder of a startup called Kno, spelled K-N-O. Rashid says, despite Apple's heft, the new initiative will help his business by making e-textbooks more common.

OSMAN RASHID: So we, as a startup, don't have to spend as many marketing dollars trying to educate the market. We can now spend our funds telling people why Kno is the best place to go.

ABRAMSON: At the same time, many in the industry think Apple's entry could prompt an industry shakeout. Apple's publishing initiative may also create a painful dilemma for school districts and colleges. Many students have been sharing iPads. That's harder to do when textbooks are involved. If schools want to jump onto this bandwagon, they will also have to buy a bunch of iPads at $500 a pop.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, New York.

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