Apple is going to have a hard time making a big dent in the textbook industry because its slow moving, and it’s already using someone else’s software, says Osman Rashid, CEO of Kno, a digital textbook company.We spoke with Rashid today about what he expects from Apple this week. He said he didn’t know any particular details, but our conversation centered on the report that Apple would be offering self-publishing tools for publishers.
Here’s the highlights of our conversation:
- Right now publishers use Adobe software to build textbooks. If Apple offers new software, then publishers will have to abandon Adobe, or they’ll have to work with both Apple and Adobe, says Rashid. Working on two platforms is a pain.
- If publishers do use Apple’s software, then they’ll probably only dabble with a book or two, and see how it works. If it’s a success, then maybe they’ll expand their line up to 25-30 books, says Rashid. “Historically, textbook companies dabble, before they jump in with both feet.”
- The ePub format is not good for textbooks, just trade books. Apple’s tools will reportedly work in the ePub 3 format, which is the standard for digital books. Rashid says it’s good for normal books, but not textbooks because textbooks require a more media-rich format.
- Even if publishers are ready to jump in with both feet, Rashid warns: “Textbook publishers are even slower than trade books. It’s a pretty long sales cycle, nothing happens over night.” Textbooks for K-12 students are only updated every 5-7 years, says Rashid. As for colleges and universities, new books aren’t coming out constantly.
- Will Apple make its tools work for iOS only? Will Apple allow publishers to distribute books across the web, and Android? If it’s iOS only, why do publishers want to use those tools? If it’s iOS only, then publishers will have legal issues. Textbooks have to available across a bunch of platforms.
- Will this really help Apple sell more iPads? Right now Apple is the tablet standard, but Rashid points out Apple’s rivals are offering cheaper and cheaper hardware. If schools were to start buying tablets for students, would they buy Apple’s $500 tablet or Amazon’s $200 tablet? Or someone else’s tablet that we haven’t seen yet?
Rashid is obviously conflicted about Apple’s entry into the textbook industry. His company currently works with publishers to digitize their textbooks and then distributes the books through Kno.com, making them available on the web, or on the iPad. Kno adds interactive features to the books, and Rashid says Kno has seen hundreds of thousands of downloads so far.
If Apple is about to offer publishing tools to textbook makers, then it’s a threat to Kno’s digitizing. Rashid says that’s not Kno’s business model. He says it makes money selling books, so if Apple offers tools to digitize books, its good for Kno because it’s more books to distribute.
Rashid also believes that Kno’s “maniacal focus” on digital textbooks will give it a leg up. He helped build Chegg, the online textbook rental company, and he said people warned for years that Amazon was going to flatten it, which never happened.