While online bookstores have changed how many students shop for textbooks, the Apple iPad may soon signal a change in the format of the textbooks themselves.
Apple Inc. recently announced that it will be adding a tablet computer — the iPad — to its line of digital devices, which will be available for purchase in March. Recent news suggests the company will be working with textbook publishers to develop course materials for the iPad.
Some textbook publishers have contracted ScrollMotion, Inc. — a company that has already developed applications to read magazines and newspapers on the iPhone — to create textbook and study guide applications for the iPad, according to The Wall Street Journal.
W. Russell Neuman, John Derby Evans professor of media technology at the University, said he is skeptical that the iPad will be as popular as the iPod and iPhone, but thinks e-books, in general, have a promising future on the new platform.
“In the next few years, e-books will probably largely replace ink on paper as the medium of communication, using a technology like the iPad,” he said.
iPad competitors like the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble’s new Nook already have a variety of textbooks available for download, and publishers like The McGraw-Hill Companies and Houghton Mifflin directly offer e-textbooks of their own.
Neuman said students will eventually read textbooks on laptops, phones and specialized e-readers. He added that being able to search for text on a single device, rather than using an index, is one of the chief advantages of digital books over printed texts.
“Who wants to carry around textbooks at seven pounds a piece?” he said.
Local textbook retailers may already be losing business to digital course materials. Shaman Drum Bookshop was forced to close last June, and officials there pointed mainly to online developments in the textbook market for the store’s trouble.
Ulrich’s Bookstore and Michigan Book and Supply have created online rental programs to compete with online textbook service Chegg.com.
Jade Roth, vice president of books at Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, said the company sees digital textbooks as just another option for students who would rather rent than buy printed copies.
“As college booksellers, we don’t choose the content — that’s chosen by the professor,” she said. “What we try to do is provide students with as many choices as possible from a format and price perspective.”
Barnes & Noble has sold digital textbooks since 2003 and has made efforts to apply them to electronic devices, Roth said. She added that, despite their availability, digital textbooks might take a long time to be adopted by the reading public.
“If I’m reading a textbook, I want to interact with the material, do exercises, rely on color and graphics, take notes and have those dump out into a study guide; in essence I want to consume content,” she said. “When I look at the (e-)readers that are on the market today, they don’t really fill the need at that point.”
Representatives from Ulrich’s and Michigan Book and Supply declined to comment on the issue of digital textbooks.
With stores offering different textbook options, students said they have varying opinions on whether they would actually buy a digital textbook or whether they would use one on an iPad.
LSA junior Sandhya Simhan said she already uses digital materials for some of her classes and would use more if they were available.
“If iTunes suddenly had textbooks, that would be pretty damn cool, at least in my opinion,” she said.
Simhan said that though digital textbooks would be convenient, she doesn’t see the iPad as the best device for viewing text given its touch-based interface.
“I like the idea of buttons, because I know exactly where I am,” she said. “It’s very sci-fi to use your fingers…but even if I am the Internet generation I’m not as comfortable with (it).”
Kinesiology sophomore Zachary Salt said he still prefers printed versions of text over digital ones even if the downloadable textbooks were made readily available.
“Personally, I like to read hard copies of things and it wouldn’t be that much use to me,” he said. “But for people who like to stay organized and like to keep everything all in one place, it would definitely be a useful tool.”