iPad Revisited: 5 Topics for Publishers to Consider

Samir KakarBy Samir Kakar, CTO, Aptara

In April, we wrote about the possible implications of Apple’s then just-released iPad. Sixty days and two million units later (that’s one sold every 3 seconds), the new tablet device has undoubtedly changed the publishing industry’s focus on eBooks, but whether it’s the catalyst for a permanent shift remains to be seen.

So let’s examine the topics we feel are most important in arming publishers for the new media opportunities afforded by the iPad.

1. eBooks vs. Apps

Before the iPad, most publishers were content to produce basic eBooks for the plethora of devices available. Now, however, many seem to feel that apps developed specifically for a particular publication might be better. App development is more costly than eBook production, since it involves custom programming; they’re also not portable between platforms (e.g. iPad and Android), meaning additional development costs for multi-device support.

The dilemma facing publishers is whether the on-screen presence that an app provides is worth the cost, versus simply being an eBook in the iBookstore. There are now over 225,000 apps available in the App Store, approximately 8,500 of which are dedicated to the iPad. It will be difficult for publishers to differentiate their apps within such a large ecosystem, although some print-based apps have broken through (e.g. The Elements, Alice, Wired Magazine).

2. Enhanced eBooks

Along with the eBook vs. App discussion, a great deal of attention is being paid to the topic of enhanced eBooks. What constitutes “enhanced” is subjective. In general, enhanced eBooks include functionality beyond simple page turning, such as annotation and dictionary lookup. They might include links to websites, or embedded or linked audio and video. Developers such as Aptara have methods for enhancing eBooks based on the ePUB standard using HTML5, which allows audio and video to be included within an eBook and played/displayed without leaving the iBooks app. The upcoming release of iPhone OS 4.0 (now known as iOS4, to include the iPad and possible future devices) will also make enhanced eBooks simpler to use, since multiple apps can be open at one once (although only one can be fully active).

3. The Common Platform

The iPad has become a common platform for other eBook retailers to sell their products. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, among others, have released apps that allow iPad users to purchase, store and read their proprietary eBooks. This is an interesting strategy since the aforementioned booksellers also have individually branded eBook reading devices. Industry analysts will be watching to see whether the creation of multi-platform apps will increase eBook sales without significantly cannibalizing sales of reading devices.

As a side note, Borders has also jumped into the eBook reader market, but instead of marketing their own reading device, they are selling several different devices with various price points. And Google will be launching Google Editions shortly which promises eBooks that are stored in the cloud and can be read anywhere, on any device with a browser.

4. ePUB Update

The IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) has chartered a working group to update the ePUB standard to allow for more functionality and interchange of eBook data. There are 14 main improvements that the working group is tasked to address including language support, enhanced support of metadata, rich media, navigation, mathematics, annotation, and interactivity. The working group is chartered through May 2011 with drafts due to be released between September and December 2010.

At this point, the devices/platforms are several steps ahead of the ePUB standard in terms of functionality.  Hopefully, the next version will enable standardized ways to create enhanced publications (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.) across devices and eliminate the need to develop proprietary extensions.

5. Getting eShelf Space

Many medium and small publishers continue to encounter barriers in getting access to the various eBook stores. There are many reasons, including exclusivity requirements and revenue sharing agreements, to name a couple. These publishers are looking for partners to assist them not only in preparing eBooks, but also in getting them into online outlets. Some outlets are looking to aggregators to act as intermediaries between themselves and smaller publishers and self-publishers. As more and more online outlets emerge, the role of these aggregators will increase, possibly creating a new service category within the eBook publishing industry.

iBooksHow Far We’ve Come… in Just Two Months

Below are updates on some of the statements and speculations we made immediately following the iPad’s launch:

  • “It appears that Apple’s iPad can provide a one-stop-shop solution to content publishers through their online store, reader software and DRM − which can only serve to simplify mobile content delivery.”

While it is true that content publishers do have a new market outlet, it resembles Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s. Whether delivery is simpler still remains to be seen.

  • “Aptara is in the process of examining the iPad SDK (software development kit) to fully understand the iPad’s impact on eBook applications. We will keep you updated as our evaluation continues and we have more information to share.”

Aptara is now helping publishers bring their content to life by developing interactive iPad apps, as well as enhanced eBooks for the iPad (and other eReaders and smart phones). In fact, some of the most successful apps being produced, by Aptara and others, are those based on content that had previously appeared only in print. See above for more information on eBooks vs. Apps vs. enhanced eBooks.

  • “Some have predicted that the iPad may be the textbook of the future. Until Apple releases more details about the capabilities of the iBook and iBookstore it’s hard to know for sure what the possible applications might be.”

Many educational institutions have ordered iPads for their staff and students, including Illinois Institute of Technology, Seton Hall University, George Fox University and Abilene Christian University.  These institutions are being closely watched to gauge whether the iPad is indeed the textbook of the future (some of these universities previously attempted to integrate the iPhone and iPod Touch into classes, with varying degrees of success).  The hope is that the iPad’s larger screen will enhance learning aids and therefore the learning experience.

In comparison, a previous study to evaluate the Kindle DX at Princeton found that regardless of the form factor, “learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes”.

Speed was also an issue with the Kindle.  While the iPad is fast, has a color screen, and thousands of apps, its iBook reader does not support most forms of physical interaction just described.  (NOTE: At the recent WWDC 2010, Steve Jobs announced updates to the iBooks app that will allow for bookmarks, highlighting and notes, as well as for support of PDF within iBooks. The iBooks app will also be available on any device capable of supporting iOS4, including the iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3G and 3GS, 2nd/3rd generation iPod Touch.)

Other reader apps do provide some of these abilities, but cannot open the Apple DRM files. Some eTextbook apps are starting to emerge, but are priced based on a limited-time subscription.  Once the subscription expires, the book is no longer available, though personal notes are.

The bottom line is that the iPad’s app capability presents an incredibly large and clean slate for exploring how static content can be brought to life as new and powerful learning aids, though apps are significantly more expensive and less portable than converting textbooks to e/iBooks.  This reality, combined with the results of the Universities’ testing, will significantly influence the ultimate use case for iPads in schools.

  • “Undoubtedly one of the most promising aspects of the iPad announcement is their impending growth in size and scope of the eBook market − thanks to the power of the Apple brand.”

There is no question that the eBook market has many new entrants (consumers and publishers) thanks to Apple’s new device. After just two months, more than 5 million eBooks had been downloaded from the iBookstore.

So Where to From Here?

As Bob Dylan said, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”  The publishing industry is evolving before our eyes on several fronts (devices, standards, business models, etc.).  Who could have predicted the rate of adoption and change we’ve witnessed in just the past two months? The next few months will likely be a continuum

Bring your seat forward, put your tray table up, ensure that your seat belt is securely fastened, and enjoy the ride!

As CTO, Samir Kakar is responsible for Aptara’s technology products and processes in support of key customers such as Cambridge University Press, Random House and Amazon, and Oxford University Press.  His technology portfolio includes the patented web-based XML authoring solution, PowerXEditor, and eGen, Aptara’s eBook Production Platform.

13 thoughts on “iPad Revisited: 5 Topics for Publishers to Consider

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  2. Liam Campbell

    Great article.

    I did want to point out that you can make apps or ‘AppBooks’ and distribute to multiple platforms like Apple, Android and Blackberry using one of the cross platform development tools available. They are portable if you make them in this way.

    But I imagine that in the not too distant future that the features available for Books as apps and ebooks will converge as you suggest.

  3. Neil Schlager

    Good overview, Samir. Regarding the disappointing Kindle DX experiment at Princeton and the new experiments happening with the iPad at various universities, I do think it’s important that the device offers a way to do things that students expect to do with a physical book. Thus, students need to be able to highlight and attach notes to an electronic textbook just like they can with a physical one. This technology already exists in many iPhone apps and, as you note, will soon be available for the iPad. Various websites also offer this technology; we are working to incorporate it into our site. As you say, all of us in the educational publishing sector are watching the iPad experiments closely.

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  7. Martin Klopstock

    Very good status quo overview, Samir. As the app developer community is honing its Objective C skills, I’d be very interested to hear more from you on how content providers can best avoid locking their content in an (albeit massive) proprietary channel, and take advantage of all other platforms that are available – most significantly Android – without having to re-invent the wheel. Perpaps in a future contribution 😉

    1. Liam Campbell


      One way to make your apps cross-platform is to create them using HTML, CSS and Javascript and use PhoneGap (google it). The tools for doing this are getting better and better. It is the best solution to make your app and deliver it to multiple platforms, including iPhone and iPad. You can also easily create a mobile web app version of your app that is available on the internet.

  8. Richard PIpe

    More important than these five relatively reactive points are these 12 publisher digital content strategy points by Phil Spinelli. Just to cut through the noise. They can be seen here http://infogridpacific.typepad.com/using_epub/2010/06/surviving-the-transition-to-digital-publishing.html The technology development is a mechanical given. Apps, ePub, or anything else, it has to track current device capabilities, and the willingness of publishers to pay.

    The future of digital content for publishers to stop thinking about formats and the games being played by Amazon, Apple and Google, et.al., and start thinking about getting their content into a digital content strategy that is ready for anything the world throws at them. Especially small and medium publishers.

    From a publisher’s perspective it doesn’t matter what Steve Jobs or anyone else says, its what they do. The imperative is to get content ready for an uncertain digital future. It is going to be XHTML/XHTML5… there is nothing else on the horizon. And even if something else arrives, a coherent XHTML content strategy will ensure any publisher has the option of moving to whatever comes. Creating and distributing content in formats and apps today is not a digital strategy for even the next 12 months.

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