MG Siegler in his latest TechCrunch article posits that although Apple’s new iBooks strategy is admirable in its effort to fix problems in public high schools, that it’s not realistic and that their market strategy should revolve around colleges and college textbooks.
On the surface, which seems logical enough, his argument is sound. But It ignores the one, HUGE driving force in education: money.
Nearly all high schools are public, or receive public funding in one way or another and help to satisfy the law which states that students of high school age must attend school. Textbooks are merely a means of teaching these students topics which help these schools qualify for their funding.
That’s basically the business model for most high schools in the US. Teach what the state and federal governments mandate to receive funding. Universities do not work that way. Even so called “public universities”. These are institutions that operate on revenues, which come from donations, returns from investments, tuition, and from selling products. That last item is particularly important when applied to the university bookstores.
Bookstores are profit centers for universities. Big ones. As tablets (by tablets, I really mean iPads) have come out over the last few years startups have emerged to help university students get their hands on digital textbooks. And it’s exciting. We can look at the the progress they are making and feel like the education world is progressing. But it isn’t. Kno, one of the most prominent digital textbook sellers, still only offers a very small percentage of textbooks required for university classes. And many textbooks still require the purchase of a physical book to qualify for the digital version. This is because students are currently not the customers of textbook publishers. University bookstores are. And by removing the university bookstore middle man, you evaporate millions of dollars in revenue for each university. And they know this. And are fighting hard for the publishers to maintain the current model.
Here’s where Apple’s brilliant strategy comes in. They know the power of amazing devices in markets. They know the strength of the consumer’s collective voice. They watched as the nation coalesced behind their $.99 solution for music, which ended up cutting the size of the music industry in half. The new iBook textbooks are being marketed in a way that circumvents the university bookstore. Brilliant. Go right to the student in high school. Make them a true believer. Give them an amazing textbook experience starting in 9th grade. By the time these students hit university in 4 more years they aren’t going to know how to not use an iPad while studying. The iPad will be synonymous with learning, and that’s when education shifts. If textbook publishers continue to exclude students from their market strategy students will take matters in their own hands. Things will get crazy. And that’s when industries get disrupted. When the end user is fed up and frustrated and motivated to make a difference. And college students have always been the most adept protestors and rioters.
Apple, by going high school first, is applying the heat to university textbook publishers and bookstores. They are saying “Fine. If you won’t work with us, then we’ll empower a generation to change your industry for you.”
And they will.
To MG’s point, the high school strategy is still tricky. We are dealing with young teenagers here and PUBLIC schools, which means there isn’t a lot of cash to go around. But they’ll figure it out. The iPad is only on its second generation and my mom, a 9th grade history teacher, already has one, courtesy of her school. Students are next. Then on to the revolution.