The tablet PC might be the proverbial nail in the textbook coffin. Angst over textbooks has been in the air on college campuses for decades, and e-readers and alternative delivery options have started building momentum (just look at Chegg). It appears that with the release of the iPad, textbook publishers aren’t going to sit this one out. McGraw-Hill, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, among others, have all indicated that their textbooks will be available on the device in the near future. The Kindle DX has already been tested with the college crowd. Kindle can’t claim victory yet, but I’m sure it has gained some valuable student feedback from which to build.
The iPad’s price will put it slightly out of reach for young consumers for awhile yet, but as the device becomes more prevalent, students will likely be migrating to the iPad or other brands that follow. The real question is: Will textbook publishers still be gouging students with their e-book versions? The convenience of having textbooks in digital form is just one selling point, but if publishers and Apple think that point alone will sell readers and e-textbooks, they should think again. It does appear that textbook prices will drop when offered digitally, so the savings could very well pay for one’s initial investment in the iPad. Nevertheless, price is the primary pain point for students that should be addressed. Students will also demand other features such as ala carte downloading of chapters and review sections with the ability to print and highlight text.
So, who has the upper hand here? Actually, professors do, and that’s because students have to buy the books they assign for class. And because professors are not typically early adopters of new technology, it may be awhile before students do their back-to-school book buying on iTunes. Maybe once students get a taste of this technology, they will step up and demand that their textbooks be on these devices at prices they can afford. After all, they have already pushed textbook rentals into reality and made it a viable business model to boot.