Ambitious plans for Apple textbook growth

Publishers launching titles on the new Apple interactive textbook platform [part of the iBooks 2 e-book store] have spoken enthusiastically of expansion plans for the future, despite warnings from education professionals of potential drawbacks.

McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt all partnered with Apple to have digital e-books ready to sell when the company announced its new platform. Apple said the titles will eventually include "every subject, every grade level for every student".

Vineet Madan, senior vice-president of strategic services for McGraw-Hill, dismissed fears that the $14.99 price tag given to the Apple textbooks would undermine the sale of printed textbooks, reasoning that, on average, a US textbook cost $75 and is used for five years, averaging out at $15 a year.

Madan said: "We have prepared for this first generation of products to be available globally, and we are working with Apple to make sure that happens as quickly as possible. We have to make sure it works on a country-by-country basis.

"If digital became the only model tomorrow, I would be quite excited about that. People talk about publishers being slow-moving but that could not be further from the truth. As I sit here today, 100% of our products are available digitally. But there is a question around whether schools are ready yet."

Genevieve Shore, Pearson's chief information officer and director of digital strategy, said of the publisher's new, interactive textbooks: "These books break new ground in digital and mobile publishing . . . We see enormous potential to create these kinds of programmes for more subjects, more stages of learning, and more geographic markets."

But while the education sector has welcomed the potential the new platform has for enhancing teaching and learning in the classroom, it has also warned about "equity issues", with not all students having access to iPads.

Sion Humphreys, policy advisor for the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It is inevitable that at some point e-textbooks will become the norm in schools. While this has clear benefits in terms of not having to replace outdated books, ease of access and portability, we would be concerned about creating an impression that traditional books are outmoded.

"Another concern would be if the texts were only available on certain devices. Such a development would constrain schools in their ICT procurement decisions." 

Dr Mark Kerrigan-Holt, senior lecturer in education at the University of Greenwich, said the potential of the textbook platform was "exciting". But, he added: "We do need to be aware of the implications of one company dominating the sector." Of a Joint Information Systems Committee-funded pilot survey into which devices students would want to use, he said: "The results are not clear cut. Not every student is saying: 'Buy me an iPad.'"