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Textbooks Now On iPhone, iPod Touch


It appears that rumors of the death of the e-book on the iPhone platform were greatly exaggerated, at least that’s what Apple (s aapl) has said in a recent statement. Backing up Apple’s official denial of plans to discontinue that side of app store business is a Wall Street Journal report (subscription required) that details a new recently released app which brings textbooks to the iPhone.

The new venture bringing the textbooks to the platform is a joint effort by 12 major educational publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson, both of which are responsible for a huge chunk of the higher education textbook market in North America. 7,000 titles are available from the combined publishers. The partnership is being operated under the moniker of CourseSmart LLC, and works based on a rental model.

This model has the benefit of being much less expensive than purchasing a traditional textbook, but the digital books can’t be resold to recoup expenses at the end of the rental period, or loaned to friends, for example. Of course, that’s the drawback of any e-book, but for most students, the cost benefit probably outweighs the disadvantages of the format.

People might be quick to note that the iPhone’s small screen is hardly ideal for working with text books, most of which have larger than average publishing formats, which is why Amazon (s amzn) went about creating the Kindle DX in the first place. CourseSmart isn’t trying to sell people on the idea of using the pocket device as a straight-up substitute for all other learning aids, though. The app is designed to supplement its existing catalogue of e-textbooks on other platforms, not replace it entirely.

Instead, it’ll provide a quick, searchable reference for use on the go when using your computer is impossible or awkward. CourseSmart EVP Frank Lyman suggested one possible scenario for how students might go about using the new program to enhance and extend their learning. “If you’re in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text.”

Even though I had to trudge along with traditional, cumbersome, paper and ink textbooks, there were countless times that I wished my texts were digitally indexed and searchable. Theoretically, even if you prefer sticking to old-fashioned learning methods, you could also subscribe to the digital additions and quickly find relevant passages by keyword without having to resort to anything as archaic as the text-based index at the back of the book.

The app is available for free in the App Store to existing CourseSmart subscribers. For those looking to sign up, e-textbooks through CourseSmart are roughly 50 percent cheaper than their paper-based counterparts, on average, and any textbooks you subscribe to will immediately be available via the app.

15 Responses to “Textbooks Now On iPhone, iPod Touch”

  1. rickdude

    I’ve just been over to CourseSmart and taken a look at some of the titles that would interest me. My feeling is that they’re missing a big opportunity. For me, the fact that I’m renting rather than buying, and that these are e-books rather than physical objects that I have to carry and find space for, means that I’m primed to get “the course textbook” and 2 or 3 others that cover somewhat different selections of topics in somewhat different ways. I can understand that total sales may never be enough to offer textbooks at $5 or $10, but how about offering additional books in the same subject area for an extra $10 per book, after they’ve extracted more than $50 for the first book? Bob Smith is right: however cool the basic idea, they’re going to kill it if they don’t convince people they’re giving value.

  2. rickdude

    Uh, Amos, did you see this bit?:

    >e-textbooks through CourseSmart are roughly 50 percent cheaper than their >paper-based counterparts, on average

    I haven’t seen any mention that prices will later be lowered.

  3. It’s just the beginning . The new iBook will not only change Bob’s mind, it will mean that students will be able to carry ALL of their textbooks in a single device that takes us less space & weighs substantially less than a single book — all for way less than 50% that Bob hopes to get back for his used ones — and none of the hassle. Add to that the ability to word search, take notes, cut & paste, surf the web, listen to music and watch movies, check email, etc. and you have a no-brainer. So, Bob, wake up the future is here.

  4. Very interesting concept. I’ve always thought this could be a promising application for the education market.

    Would be great if the app had some value-added functionality, like the ability to highlight sections, tag passages with notes.. and of course to *listen* to the textbook, while you drive, workout, etc.

  5. Bob Smith

    I don’t know what the going price is these days, but when I attended college I could resell my textbooks for about 1/2 the new price (depending on condition). An e-book that’s 1/2 the (grossly inflated) paper-book price isn’t a deal from my perspective.

    • Selling textbooks back to the bookstore is a gamble. Pre-requisite level business, science and math classes using current editions have the highest resell value (typically 50-60%). Resell value for humanities textbooks are typically much, much lower.

      But, if the bookstore thinks the textbook is not going to be used the next semester, the resell value falls to 0-10% at the campus bookstore. Savy students can try to sell online, but many students get $0 for a subset of the books they’d like to sell.