Since before Apple announced its education-oriented press event taking place this week, there’s been some speculation — including here — that a logical step would be to start selling digital textbooks directly through its iBookstore. It would make sense because Apple needs a way to juice iBook sales, it has a fantastic e-textbook reader in the iPad and because, well, what else would you announce at a small “education” event in New York City, the center of publishing?
It turns out, it might not be that complicated.
To begin with, if it were about books, it’s a little odd that many in the publishing business don’t know anything about what Apple’s about to announce. What if what the company reveals on Thursday is more consumer-oriented with an educational edge to it? It could be a publishing platform for building and making interactive kids books, with an emphasis on simple creation tools; something easy to use and geared toward helping people build their own digital storytelling projects. It could be like a publishing version of iMovie, iPhoto or GarageBand, a set of tools that enables anyone to put together and self-publish interactive books? That’s something that parents, teachers or independent content creators could use, and could certainly be considered “education.”
The word “book,” by the way, is hard not to use in this context, but it’s not very accurate. As Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis told me last week when talking about the future of digital textbooks, “textbook” is wrong when what were are really talking about are digital learning tools, instead of paper pages. “That’s going to have to go away,” he said. “The future of publishing is learning software and analytics and feedback and rich technology.”
Interactive books with feedback and rich content on the iPad aren’t only for kids, of course; here’s a list of some with good grown-up oriented content. Plenty of companies have already been using the iPad as a platform to publish interactive kids’ books. A search on the iTunes Store will pop up everything from digital-only publishers like Atomic Antelope that build beautiful children’s stories for the iPad, to TouchyBooks and several interactive book versions of Disney movies. But we have heard Apple’s announcement is geared toward the younger end of the K-12 set, and this could fit with that idea. It also wouldn’t be a huge surprise if people took a new set of tools for building visual stories with rich content and ran with it and it eventually became much more popular outside of content aimed at younger kids and students.