NPR / September 17 2010 / Lynn Neary
For a few years now, people have been expecting electronic textbooks to take off in a big way: They're cheaper than traditional textbooks, easier to carry around in a backpack, and seem like a natural progression for students who have grown up playing and working with digital devices.
Despite all that, traditional textbooks have prevailed — until now. The game changer, according to Matt MacInnis, may be a little thing called the iPad. MacInnis is the founder and CEO of Inkling, a company that designs textbook software for the iPad. He says the iPad has allowed for the reinvention of the textbook.
He says that changes things because, until now, e-textbooks have basically just been bad imitations of their paper counterparts.
Sean Devine, CEO of the e-textbook provider CourseSmart, says that's why, for a while at least, digital textbooks will have to match the layout of their print counterparts.
"We believe that students will be sitting side by side in a classroom and not all of them will have iPads," he says. "Some of them may have the print book just as they have had for years. And they need to see the same thing — they need to be literally on the same page."
Inkling's Matt MacInnis says his company is also designing software that is compatible with the printed page, but he also thinks the iPad and similar tablet devices will be hard for students to resist.
He says the era of the $180 textbook is ending and the time when you can download a chapter for $2.99 is only just beginning. That's why, when it comes to marketing his e-textbooks, 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."
That, according to MacInnis, is just how it works