At Apple’s event today in New York, Apple unveiled iBooks2, a new version of its iBooks software that is tailored to interactive textbooks, and iBooks Author, an app that makes it free and simple to create interactive textbooks for the iPad.
There are already thousands of digital textbooks available on the iPad, as well as on other devices like PCs and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet. But as my colleague Annie Corbett and I have written, e-textbooks are a transitional product, accounting for only 2.8% of the $8 billion US higher education textbook market in 2010, according to the National Association of College Stores. The vast majority of digital textbooks are not very innovative; they’re essentially print replicas with digital extensions like highlighting, search, and annotation. The iPad — which now outsells Macs in schools, according to Apple — is capable of much more than what has previously been produced, and Apple hasn’t been satisfied with the status quo. Today, Apple demonstrated iBooks2, a new textbook experience for the iPad; these new textbooks can be created using iBooks Author. iBooks2 will solve two product strategy problems for publishers:
Production cost. Companies like Inkling are doing quite well helping publishers take their education apps to the next level. The problem is that publishers’ content creation and production processes are still optimized for print, not digital, so working with Inkling is expensive (in terms of publishers’ labor, not necessarily Inkling’s fees). So most publishers opt to create a small number of new apps and settle for digital replicas or “enhanced eBooks” of everything else.
It's that time of year again! Next week I'm headed to Las Vegas for CES 2012, along with 140,000 other people (bring your hand sanitizer!). Here's what I'll be looking for among the masses of gadgets:
Tablets: Ice Cream Sandwich, Windows 8, and all the rest. Last year, there were more than 80 tablets that debuted at CES. This year, I expect the field to be whittled down some, but there will be plenty of CE manufacturers strutting their stuff. Look for new Android 4.0 tablets from Motorola, Toshiba, Acer, and others. Will they sell better than last year? I don't expect to see any barn-burners, but there's reason to be optimistic: The percentage of US tablet shoppers who say they prefer Android as the operating system on that tablet doubled from 9% to 18% between January and September 2011. Meanwhile, the percentage of tablet shoppers who say they prefer Windows decreased from 46% to 25% — still more than those who prefer Android. We'll be looking for the dazzling Windows 8 demos at the Microsoft booth and elsewhere. In addition, we'll be looking at how smaller companies are using Android as an enabling platform but building their own curated experience on top. For example, I'm meeting with Jean-Yves Hepp to check out the Qooq, an Android-based tablet optimized for cooking and kitchen use that's selling well in France.
In a press release today, Barnes & Noble announced its intention to explore a potential separation of its successful Nook business in order to "unlock that value" and build upon its rapid growth (the Nook business will have an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue this year, according to the company). As PaidContent.org notes, international expansion could be a key motivation for the move.
I have been impressed with how Barnes & Noble has managed its Nook business thus far and I imagine that they have good reasons for exploring this separation. Nook has grown rapidly, but continued growth and international expansion will take sustained investment that B&N shareholders may not have the patience for. However, the Nook business has benefitted from synergy with Barnes & Noble in two key areas: 1) Barnes & Noble's channel (retail stores) and 2) Barnes & Noble's publisher relationships. It's not clear how a separate Nook business would function without the benefit of Barnes & Noble's retail stores and publisher relationships.
Nook has fueled Barnes & Noble's growth: What will be the value of Barnes & Noble without the Nook business? Where will the growth come from?
A key model for Barnes & Noble to consider is that of News Corp. and The Daily. News Corp. owns The Daily but it's managed independently, with its own P&L. The best scenario for B&N may be to pursue a similar structure, giving Nook the independence to grow and attract new investment but maintaining the synergy between Nook and B&N's retail stores.