E-textbooks beyond Apple’s iBooks

February 21, 2012

Apple’s iBooks got a lot of attention, but there are several other alternatives in the e-textbook space that show promise. For example, the Nature Publishing Group recently launched a new text called Principles of Biology, a constantly updating science textbook.

Vikram Savkar, publishing director for the Nature Publishing Group, said that he’s been working to take the textbook forward, and feels that being able to offer a device- and platform-independent online text is the best way to do that.

The book, which will constantly be updated with the latest scientific information, will cost $49 for students and will be available through a Web browser, rather than requiring a certain device.

“They don’t have to carry anything around, no apps, no devices, no matter where they are they have access,” he said.

The book has plenty of interactive elements, he said, showing concepts such as how DNA is constructed. Right now, Nature is sticking to the Principles of Biology, but is already working on a second book and planning a third.

For now, the books will only be in English, he said, though the group may consider other languages down the line.

For teachers, the book also offers a chance to customize quizzes, track grades and drill down into what concepts individual students are grasping the best and where they need the most work.

Savkar said he knows that e-textbooks will eventually be the primary texts for classrooms and believes that there’s a five- to 10-year transition before these texts are widely adopted.

Apple’s iBooks may show that e-textbooks are at a tipping point, he said, but he doesn’t think its introduction spells the end of the legacy textbook manufacturers.

“All of us consume exciting user-generated content in our private lives, but that has not proven to work as well in education,” he said. “People who are gatekeepers are professionals and see it as a professional decision on which their reputations are staked.

“I think that it’s very, very important to understand that the education market is not a consumer market, not a consumer space,” he added. Having a company like Apple jump into the space, he said, “raises awareness and helps that psychological transformation” to digital textbooks, but won’t turn the space on its head.

Related stories:

Apple: A textbook case of innovation

Apple’s education event: iBooks 2, iBooks Author, textbooks in digital book store

More technology coverage from The Post

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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