Are textbooks a thing of the past? Maybe paper ones are.

Kindles, Nooks and the iPad (perhaps especially the iPad): while e-reading is the hot new thing this year, it’s the textbook industry that most are predicting will see the biggest impact from e-book technology.

Compared with traditional textbooks, the iPad and other devices for reading digital books have the potential to save on textbook costs in the long term, to provide students with more and better information faster, and — no small matter — to lighten the typical college student’s backpack. (USA Today) At the same time, a robust online marketplace of used books and recent inroads by textbook rental programs give students more options than ever. The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online “open” content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.

Back in August, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, Inc.) announced an expanded textbook rental program; at the same time, the company offers thousands of eTextbooks and the NOOKstudy program.

Some say it’s the iPad that’s making all the difference. A shift to e-books within the textbook industry has been expected for some time, but it’s the arrival of the iPad that seems to have jump-started momentum in that direction. In a recent piece on NPR (The E-Textbook Experiment Turns a Page), Matt MacInnis of Inkling talks about why iPads surpass their paper counterparts: “We give guided tours through complex concepts,” he says. “So rather than seeing a picture of a cell dividing and then having a big, long caption, you can now tap … through all the different phases of cell division and see those things unfurl in front of you.” At Reed College, students tested Kindles last year (the results were lackluster and mostly unsuccessful; students reported understanding the course material less with Kindles than with paper textbooks) and are testing iPads this year. Most express positive feedback with the iPads, though they often cite the cost of purchasing one as prohibitive. Still, as MacInnis points out, when a printed textbook can cost hundreds of dollars alone, students may be swayed to purchase hardware that will allow them to download a chapter from that same textbook for $2.99.

MacInnis says he’ll be aiming straight for the students. He says, “I can absolutely guarantee you that the guy with the book version is looking over the shoulder — with envy — at the guy with the iPad version.” (NPR)

eBook piracy on the rise?

From CNET:

Last January a company called Attributor conducted its first e-book piracy study. And back in May, I mentioned that study in piece called “Is Pad supercharging e-book piracy?” Well, Attributor has conducted a second study more recently and come up with some interesting data.

The company says its key findings are:

  • 50 percent increase in online searches for pirated downloads throughout the past year
  • 1.5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books
  • 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010
  • 54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009
  • Proliferation of smaller sites that host and supply pirated e-books–a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market
  • “Breaking Dawn” by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches throughout the study
  • Widespread international demand, with the largest number of searches during the study originating in the United States (11 percent), India (11 percent) and Mexico (5 percent)

Read more:

Multimedia e-books for the iPad

From The New York Times, an article highlighting new releases in e-books — but you need an iPad to read these “enriched” offerings.

Published: July 29, 2010
Like DVDs, electronic books for the iPad are now being loaded with extras, including video clips that are integrated with text.

The new multimedia books use video that is integrated with text, and they are best read — and watched — on an iPad, the tablet device that has created vast possibilities for book publishers.

The start-up company Vook pioneered the concept as a mobile application and for the Web in 2009, but with the iPad, traditional publishers are taking the multimedia book much more seriously.

“It’s a wide-open world,” said Molly Barton, the director of business development for Penguin. “You can show readers the world around the books that they’re reading.”

Simon & Schuster has taken the best-selling “Nixonland,” (click here for a video preview) first published in hardcover in 2008 in a whopping 896 pages, and scattered 27 videos throughout the e-book. One video is a new interview with Mr. Perlstein, conducted by Bob Schieffer, the chief Washington correspondent for CBS News. Most are news clips from events described in the book, including the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 and public reaction to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Simon & Schuster is a division of the CBS Corporation.)

Each video clip, embedded in the page, starts to play with a simple tap of the iPad screen. After pausing to watch a video, the user can go back to reading the book.

Ellie Hirschhorn, the chief digital officer for Simon & Schuster, said the intent was to use the video sparingly, at points that seemed natural to the story, so that it wouldn’t overwhelm readers.

“We set out to tell stories in a multimedia way, and to take advantage of the new technical features that allow great stories to be told,” Ms. Hirschhorn said. “It is still a reading experience.”

Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette, released an “enriched” e-book version of Mr. Baldacci’s latest novel, “Deliver Us From Evil,” in April to coincide with the hardcover release. The e-book producers borrowed from the film industry and included “research photos taken by the author, deleted scenes from the manuscript, an alternate ending and other special features,” Hachette announced in March. Penguin’s edition of Mr. Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” comes with video clips from an eight-part television series based on the book.

Reading on the iPad

So last month I was Ms. Spammy Spamerson with iPad posts (“It’s coming!” “It’s here!” “Here’s what it’s like!”) and I promised I’d talk more about the iPad as an e-reader in an upcoming post. Reading isn’t the only reason I bought an iPad, though it was a contributing factor. While I mostly use it for accessing the web, carrying my photo library around with me and for watching video, I do like the idea of being able to store & access books on it as well. I was curious. In other words, I was interested enough about e-reading to want to be able to give it a try.

In a nutshell: reading itself on the iPad is great. I recommend it to anyone who has the same level of interest in it as an e-reader as I do. Where there are problems, though, has to do with the managing of content, but that’s not idiosyncratic to Apple’s iPad, it’s a problem for all e-readers — and the iPad just might handle it best. At the same time, you’re still getting an extremely high-quality machine from Apple. As with the latest Iphone 4, the company doesn’t mess around when it comes to the accessibility of their technology.

iBooks is certainly pretty.

So, to start off with, there’s iBooks. It’s lovely, visually. The nice bookshelf with your covers so prettily displayed. Internally as well, reading the text itself, I found aesthetically pleasing. Holding the iPad in landscape format, you get the two-page format of a book, so it heightens the experience. You can turn pages by tapping or by swiping — with swiping the page “turns” with animation, like a real paper page does. Apple’s very proud of that. It’s cute, but in actuality, I mostly tap. It’s faster.

Everyone asks me if it’s hard to read on the iPad because of the backlighting, and when I say no, they express disbelief and tell me that I’m wrong, everyone says it’s more difficult. I don’t know what to tell them. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve read almost all of Freakonomics without thinking about it either way. Some people say it’s a strain on their eyes. Some don’t. YMMV. Practically everything I do all day is a strain on my eyes, and my eyesight is so bad I’m practically blind as a bat. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find reading on the iPad to be uncomfortable at all.

No, the main problem with iBooks is content. The good news is that you can import your own EPUB books, if you happen to have them (perhaps you’ve got some short stories in Word doc form: you can transform these into an EPUB using a program like Calibre, for example). The other good news is that you can download tons of free classics from Project Gutenberg, right from the iBookstore. This is great. Sure, Google Books has lots of free books too, but they’re shoddily scanned and horribly OCRd (that’s Optical Character Recognition, or how a computer understands that the black marks in the picture it just read are letters). Full of typos, misreads and formatting glitches, reading a Google Book is more pain than pleasure, imho. I love Google in many of its forms, but when it comes to Google Books, I think their attitude of “get as much done as fast as possible” stinks. Project Gutenberg texts, on the other hand, are nicely proofed scans, with almost all the typos eliminated, neat and precise. I’m glad Apple made a point of offering PG books in the iBookstore.

But for paid content, it’s highly disappointing. Apple made deals with some publishers, but not all, and therefore there are big gaping holes in the iBookstore’s offerings. There’s still no agreement on the table with Random House, for example, and that’s a biggie. No Random House means no Knopf. No Crown. No Del-Rey. No Doubleday. No Vintage. No Ballantine. No Pantheon. No DC Comics. No Bantam. And a whole lot more. Go look at your bookshelf and see how many of your books are from those publishers. None of those would be in the iBookstore. Now, hopefully Apple and Random House will strike a deal soon & that’ll change

However, there’s another problem. As Laura Miller pointed out in her blog over on, “I love reading on my iPad, but that doesn’t blind me to the abject inadequacy of the iBooks store. By contrast, Amazon, which has 15 years of online bookselling experience under its belt, has largely figured out the key to helping people find the books they want. It’s a little thing called metadata.” Don’t think you know what metadata is? Yes, you do. To the layperson, simply put, it’s tagging. Tagged posts, tagged objects, tagged images. Amazon uses metadata, including user-added tags, which make it easier for customers to find things they  might like. Look up your favorite book on Amazon, and scroll down a bit. You’ll see a section titled “Tags Customers Associate With This Product”. Click on a few. You might find something else you like. But the iBookstore doesn’t have tagging, or any metadata at all, really, other than author search, and genre distinctions of their own divising.

The first book I downloaded was my personal favorite, The Mists of Avalon -- not available in iBooks, but through Kindle for iPad.

Luckily, there’s Kindle for iPad. The app makes your iPad function just like a Kindle, as far as software goes: you can buy books right from Amazon on the iPad, or from your desktop and they’ll be synced to the iPad the next time you open the app. Easy. And there’s a veritable plethora of content to choose from. Amazon’s ahead of the game there.

A new arrival on the e-reader scene is Kobo, available June 17, a product partnered with Borders bookstores. Lower priced ($149) but lacking wireless capability for download, I can’t say if the reader itself will make a splash, but whether it does or not, there’s a Kobo for iPad app out already. As with the Kindle app, having this allows you to enjoy any Kobo books you might happen to purchase, and read them on your iPad.

Barnes and Noble has the Nook, and an iPhone app for their e-reader. They still haven’t come out with their app for the iPad, though they keep saying it’s in the works. My advice? Move it along a little faster there, B&N, and not just the app. I know you’ve been king of the bookselling heap for awhile now, but as Ferris Bueller once said, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. In your case, B&N, you might miss the train. I love B&N but if they want to stay relevant, they should be the stars of the e-book revolution — and they’re not. The Nook is pretty darn clunky, imho, and their e-book promotion and selling is lackluster at best. Sorry, a little digression from me and I doubt B&N is listening, but I wish they were, for their sakes.

For me, there’s one big advantage to the iPad over the Kindle or the Nook, even aside from versatility: the touchscreen. Laptop touch pads have been frustrating me for years; both devices feature their version of a touchpad, and I fear I would have been stymied again. Another factor is my growing dislike for one-purpose mobile devices. I don’t want to carry around a bunch of somethings that only do one thing.

One caveat: I haven’t been able to spend as much time with either the Kindle or the Nook as I’d like, to be able to give either an in-depth review, because I don’t own them. Unfortunately, my little blog budget does not extend to endless gadget purchases. If I had access to either, or the Sony Reader or the Kobo, I’d be happy to give any of them a fair shake.

Back to the iPad, I should also mention that for comic books, there’s the app from Marvel Comics. Comic books and graphic novels obviously lend themselves ably to the iPad’s full-color screen. Marvel’s free app is a comic reader; you pay for content in-app, something that’s growing common on the iStore. I was always a DC girl, so I know less about what I’m looking at with Marvel but — it looked pretty amazing. I’m just not sure, though, that you’ll ever pry paper comics out of their collectors’ hot hands.

The Toy Story Read-Along app includes music, coloring pages and games.

There are a couple other options for reading various files on the iPad. Good Reader is an app you can use to transfer files from your desktop to the iPad (by syncing, within iTunes, or wirelessly, but that can be messier). PDFs, TXTs, DOCs, and so forth. I uploaded a doc file and a PDF, and you can read them just fine in Good Reader. It’s not as smooth or pleasant a reading experience, but it works.

Lastly, there are also standalone book apps. Some app designers are selling their books this way, one app per book, and those books are either in the public domain, or original works licensed to them. Some of these are unremarkable, but a few showcase just what the iPad could do with creative content. Disney is right in the ballgame from the start with their Digital Books site, and now their Read-Along apps for iPad. Toy Story is a free download in the App Store; Toy Story 2 costs $8.99. They’re also offering The Princess and the Frog, with Beauty and the Beast to be added soon and, coming in June, a 3D app for Toy Story 3. Other childrens’ books on the iPad as standalone apps include The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss’s ABC, How to Train Your Dragon, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. A hugely popular app is the Alice for the iPad, with a Lite version available for free. Wonderful illustrations, graphics and interactivity:

Clearly, there are a ton of options for e-reading right now; all these companies competing with each other for our business with their hardware e-readers, their software e-books, their apps. Competition used benefits the consumer, but the one problem in this instance is that it makes file management very messy for us order-loving types. What I really want, after all, is all of my e-book files in one place, the way all of my music is in one place. In my house, my books are neatly arranged on my bookshelf, while yours might be strewn around the room. Either way, they’re not separated by which store I bought them from. I suspect Apple would prefer that I bought all my e-books from them, and therefore they would be all nicely organized in iBooks. But I suspect Amazon would like me to do the same in my Kindle app, and Borders would prefer I only use Kobo. That’s not going to happen, though, because the great thing about the iPad — and this is the crux of my review, and why my ultimate word on the issue is a hearty recommendation for it as an e-reader — is choice. I can shop at Apple, or Amazon, or Borders, or an independent company, and read all of it on my device. With a Kindle, or a Nook, or a Kobo, I’m restricted. Yes, all those devices can read DRM-free files you might have lying around. But the stores aren’t selling you DRM-free files. Why would they? They want you to use their product, their device, be their customer. Not someone else’s.

Lest I give the wrong impression, I’m not going to stop reading printed books. They’re still my preference. E-books are just another format to me, like audiobooks, and I wanted something to be able to access them with, like I have a CD player in my car or an iPhone jack so I can listen to podcasts while I drive. The iPad lets me read pretty much any e-book I might come across, and that’s why I like it. I use my iPad for so many other things, but it’s a big plus that it gives me the freedom to read what I want on it — and comfortably and pleasantly and enjoyably — as well.

Everything they said it would and wouldn’t be: iPad review

The title says it all, but if you want to keep reading, I’ll happily babble about the iPad a bit more.

They said it would be magical and revolutionary, and in a lot of ways it is. I’d been somewhat worried about the size — I hate clunky heavy devices. It’s shockingly thin. And fits nicely in the hands. The touchscreen is responsive as all get-out, and the color, brightness, clarity is lovely. My photos look quite nice. Video is clear. Everything we were lead to expect.

In one area, the iPad is surpassing expectations. Steve Jobs talked about 10 hours of battery life, which everyone (myself included) heard as “10 means 6 or 7, maybe”). But apparently, for once, Jobs was giving a low estimate — users are reporting almost 12 hours of battery life with heavy use. That’s impressive. Heck, I was tickled that it came out of the box with a full charge (how do they do that?).

George is apparently impressed, but Fred just wants to lick his brother's ear. An unsurprising response.

Speaking of the out-of-box experience, it’s minimal. iPad, USB dock connector, power adaptor, booklet with very little instructional information. Typical. I would have appreciated a little wipe cloth, because the iPad picks up fingerprints like a CSI unit on speed, but I had some lying around already. As for accessories, they’re still coming off the production line; the keyboard isn’t available for a few months, but to be frank I won’t be buying it. Typing with the on-screen keyboard in landscape mode is easy and fast. I’ve never had much use for docks. I will absolutely buy a protective cover/case, but the pickings were too slim right now (I thought Apple’s case was, to be blunt, an overpriced piece of flimsy junk). Most importantly, though, I find that I want a second cable. I don’t know if the iPhone/iPod cables are supposed to be interchangeable; it works, but it’s not a smooth fit. And as some users are discovering, the iPad doesn’t seem to charge when it’s connected to your computer; you have to use the wall charger for that, and then sync on your computer. That’s fine, but I don’t feel like moving the cable around every time. Otherwise, setup is a snap. You plug it in, it starts, you give it a name and sync. Connecting to WiFi is easy, as usual, as well.

I spent most of  yesterday looking for interesting iPad apps and setting up iBooks. Apple was very proud of the fact that iPhone apps will work on the iPad, just scaled down or magnified. Yeah, not so much. Oh, they work, but they look terrible, and aren’t able to take advantage of the iPad on-screen keyboard. It’s not a fun experience. Luckily, there are some terrific new iPad apps (the Netflix app for your Watch Instantly queue is fantastic, as is the ABC app, with full episodes of all your favorite shows, both for free). And a few front-runners have updated their apps, including Amazon’s Kindle reader and IMDB. But a few others need to get with the program.

iBooks is a beautiful application; the iBookstore just needs more content. I’ll post more about e-reading on the iPad in a few days, once I’ve had more time to explore.

A lot of noise is being made by the lack of support for Flash on the iPad, just as with the iPhone. I think the amount of complaining is disproportionate to how important it really is, to be frank. Sure, you find flash on a lot of sites. Most of the time, though, isn’t it stuff you don’t really need to see? You’re all set for YouTube with an app, and ditto for Netflix, and we all know Hulu is working on an app as well. Let’s cut to the chase: no, you can’t play Farmville on your iPad. It’s a travesty, I know.

The bigger omission, in my opinion, is the lack of a camera. I didn’t think I’d care — I’ve got several cameras, and the one on my iPhone, who needs another? Except, argh, it’s already aggravated me twice in 24 hours that I have to take a picture with another device, sync that to my computer and then the iPad, or upload it online, or email it to myself, or something, and *then* use it for whatever I wanted it for. If they’d just included the most basic little camera into the iPad, it would have been so much more convenient.

Otherwise… I have no complaints. The iPad does exactly what I thought it would do, and does it nicely. I really think this is a device where your satisfaction with it will depend on whether you want to use it for what it does, or whether you’re disappointed it doesn’t do something else entirely. I’m in the first category. I like having portable video. I love surfing from anywhere, in the house, out. I read a lot of sites, and this makes it easy. I look forward to e-reading. iTunes works just the same as it does anywhere else; I didn’t load most of my music onto the iPad, though, because that’s not something I’d use it for. I have an iPod set up as a stereo in my house, and a dock at work for my iPhone, and I don’t need it on the iPad as well. I did, however, load all 8 GB of my photographs, and I love being able to look through them, and presented so nicely. Multi-tasking? I really only do one thing at a time, anyhow; I never understand why that’s much of an issue. And Flash, pfft, I don’t much care. The camera part is a pain, but I’ll survive, believe me. (serious hint for iPad 2.0, though, Apple. Come on.)

Mostly, for me, it’s the touchscreen that makes it all work, because while you can do pretty much everything I’m talking about on a laptop, I’ve hated laptop navigation for years. The touchpad is awkward and annoying, and hooking up a mouse defeats the purpose of portability, or is at least as awkward. I probably should have gotten a tablet computer ages ago, but they’ve had a tendency to be a tad pricey, and no one’s done it as prettily as Apple has with the iPad.

iPad launch day

I’m not even going to try to pretend I’m doing anything today other than messing around with my iPad. 🙂 I’ll post something more of a review tomorrow, but suffice to say, I warn you, it’s going to be quite positive.

I didn’t intend to wait in line and figured I’d just cruise by the store around noon and pick up my reserved iPad. Ha. As if I’d really just wait around until then. I showed up at the Apple Store at 9 am (which is when the doors opened) and found a big ol huge line. Awesomely, though, it was the fastest line I ever stood in, for this kind of thing. 45 minutes later I was back in my car, headed home.

More tomorrow.

eBook sellers will have to compete on the iPad

Terrific article in the New York Times today mapping out e-book retailer competition on the iPad:

From the start, no one bookstore will come with an advantage: No matter which bookstore application iPad owners choose, they will have to download it first. Even the iBookstore, as Apple writes on its Web site, won’t come preloaded on the device. iPad owners will be asked to “Download the iBooks app free from the App Store.”

It sounds obvious, but I didn’t quite process it until I read it today. In fact, the other day I was Googling around about methods for importing Banes & Noble e-book purchases onto an iPad (this isn’t a good one, for this very reason). The answer is that I won’t. I’ll just download the B&N e-reader app to my iPad and read them there, easy peesy. And that’s *why* there’s a Kindle App for the iPad, and one from B&N, and so on. They want to keep you buying their product, wherever you’re reading it.

Of course I did

iPafWas there really any doubt I was going to preorder an iPad? Apple has their hooks in me. It’s the shinyness. The clean white stores, the sleekness, the form over factor, I freely admit it all. I’m brainwashed. But also, in this particular instance, I fit their niche. I’ve always wanted a more portable computer for web access and for reading, plus other things. I hate laptops: too big. The netbook: too limited in capability, no touch screen (and thank you, eBay). My iPhone: wondrous, and useful, but a bit small. I’m their target market for the iPad. I don’t care that it doesn’t have a camera, as I had no intention of taking pictures with it. I don’t need 3G, b/c I’m mostly going to use it in my own house, where there’s WiFi. It looks like a good size for reading. Touchscreen yay. On Project Runway, Michael Kors likes to talk about “the right girl, in the right dress, with the right styling”, and that’s what the  iPad is for me, the right girl in the right dress. For someone else, of course, it will not be. Chacun à son goût. I begrudge no one their disinterest in Apple and their wares. I expect others not to begrudge mine.

From the e-reader standpoint, I’m eager to hear more details about iBooks. What most people want to know is, will we and how will we be able to import other e-books we already own into iBooks, onto our iPads? I don’t own many e-books right now, but I do have a few. And I might want to shop elsewhere, in the future, but still read on my iPad. Barnes and Noble has announced that they’ll have an e-reader app specifically for the iPad ready on April 3rd. It might seem like they’re fraternizing with the competition — should B&N just want you to buy a Nook? — but quite the opposite: they’re keeping their fingers in the pie. It’s not about selling Nooks, or Kindles, or maybe even iPads, and it never has been. It’s about selling e-books, music, movies. Since the iPad will use the ePub standard that Barnes and Noble does, it shouldn’t be a problem. After all, we can import mp3s and other music files into iTunes with no great difficulty; hopefully, with iBooks, it’ll be the same.