Apple Marketing chief Phil Schiller speaks during a news conference introducing a digital textbook service in New York January 19, 2012. (SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS)

The classic question facing any innovator is not just how to come up with something new and different, but how to address a customer’s pain point in a creative, cost-effective way. With its new textbook publishing initiatives, announced at a highly-anticipated “education event” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Apple may have finally cracked the $10 billion dollar textbook market wide open, and in a way that could become hugely profitable for the company and its partners at the same time.

Ask any student — the primary consumer of textbooks — what they hate about textbooks, and the answers would probably be: cost, size/bulkiness, and rapid planned obsolescence. By offering text books at a relatively low price point ($14.99), in a way that makes portability a breeze (download as many as you need directly to your iPad), and theoretically making it as easy to update a textbook as it is to update an application, Apple solves for all three of these pain points. For educators, who must deal with varying student numbers, participation and engagement throughout a long school day, Apple also adds a highly desirable interactive element to the textbook experience, turning boring textbooks into highly visual, interactive learning tools.

Voila! The customer pain points are gone.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Apple can extend its plan for interactive textbooks to every educational niche, from secondary to university education and then to the burgeoning adult education market. Apple, according to reporting by the Post’s Hayley Tsukayama, has lined up a solid slate of partners — including the three largest textbook publishers and well-known educators. The company is also ready to integrate the interactive textbook experience with other elements of its educational digital ecosystem, such as iTunes U, according to a Jan. 19 report by Engadget’s Joseph Volpe. Not only that, the company has shown that it won’t be limited to traditional thinking about what comprises a curriculum, with contributions from organizations you don’t typically associate with textbooks, such as the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, according to a Jan. 19 report by The Verge’s David Pierce.

Of the three pain points outlined above, price has always played the most important role. Ever wonder why there’s such an active secondary market for student textbooks at America’s universities? To make its offering as attractive as possible, it’s no wonder Apple has focused on the $14.99 price point — it’s low enough to be perceived as affordable, but high enough to ensure a profit for Apple and its partners.

One hopes that, in the future, there will be even more downward pressure on price as Apple opens up the textbook creation business through publishing initiatives such as iBooks Author. The only question mark ahead is: What if a new generation of students begins to see the Apple brand not as a cool status symbol, but as just another component of their daily homework-assignment grind?

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