Speeding Up the Transition to Digital eTextbooks

Courtney Williams's picture
Thursday, February 23, 2012

FCC calls for national adoption of eTextbooks...who will lead the way?

Although Apple has captured much of the E-Book spotlight since its announcement in January that it would partner with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to roll out K12 E-Books in addition to its improved iBooks applications, it isn’t the only player in tablets in education. On the heels of Apple’s announcement, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski released in early February his plans to get all U.S. students, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, using electronic book titles by 2017—in five years. Chairman Genachowski challenged state leaders and the digital textbook industry ecosystem to make national adoption of digital textbook a reality; he announced a meeting in March 2012 with CEOs of companies in the digital learning space to drive national adoption of digital textbooks in the next five years.

Since Apple’s venture into K12 E-Books, one primary concern has been financing the new devices. The iBooks application is free to download, and all textbooks cost $14.99 or less. While textbooks themselves may only cost $14.99, Apple has yet to officially announce a plan to lower the price of iPads, which currently begin at $499 a pop. It is rumored that with the iPad 3, which may be on the market shortly, Apple is exploring the option of adding less expensive component makers into its supply chain to make the price of the third-generation tablet more competitive. Ensuring that each student, rich or poor, has access to an iPad before the digital curriculum can be rolled out in a district is key to preventing the digital divide from deepening. Genachowski acknowledges the fiscal constraints put on schools and anticipates aiding districts as much as the department can without additional money from the government. The U.S. spends $7 billion per year on paper textbooks.

While the U.S. appears to be united in its move toward E-Books, they are far from being in the hands of every student. Until then, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will continue to make digital content available to supplement traditional textbooks. “McGraw-Hill understands that not everyone has an iPad today, and we want to be sensitive to that,” says Lisa O’Masta, senior vice president of marketing for STEM at McGraw-Hill. “We’re still providing solutions that will help every district on every end of the spectrum, whether it’s a hybrid model with textbooks, videos or 3D animation. Everyone is at a different place, and for those that are ready, they’re able to do that through the iPad.”