Publishing Players Speculate on Apple’s Industry-Changing Announcement

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By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

On January 27, 2010, Steve Jobs changed the course of consumer technology yet again when he announced the first iPad.

While Silicon Valley gushed, another group was buzzing all the way across the country at the Sheraton Hotel in New York. It was the scene of the first-ever Digital Book World Conference and the attendees in the room – representatives from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Random House, HarperCollins and many other major players in the book publishing industry – knew that the business of books would never be the same. It was the talk of the conference.

Two years later, Apple will hold its first public event since the death of its founder, but this time, in New York. Speculation has been that the location of the announcement indicates that it’s about the book publishing industry, which is largely headquartered in New York. More recent media reports indicate that the announcement will be about the textbook industry; more specifically, that it will be about new software that, like GarageBand for music, will allow users to create interactive e-textbooks.

Whatever the announcement, Digital Book World 2012, held on January 23 to 25 at the same Sheraton Hotel in New York, will be buzzing with the news. Here’s some early, pre-announcement speculation from people who will be attending the conference next week.

“It would be great to see Apple invest more in iBooks,” said Samantha Francis, a marketing and communications manager at BookNet Canada, a Toronto-based non-profit focused on sourcing and developing new publishing technology. “A lot of people in publishing feel that way.”

Alphonse MacDonald, director of marketing and technology at The National Academies in Washington, D.C., agrees. “I hope that there will be some improvements to the iBooks application,” he said.

Others ventured that the announcement would be education-related.

“I think that it’s going to be a large-scale tool that publishers will use to develop interactive content for textbooks – a platform for e-textbooks,” said Dev Ganesan, CEO of Falls Church, Va.-based Aptara, a digital content design and production firm. “It might also tie back to publishers’ own content management system…so somebody using a McGraw Connect portal [an educational portal from McGraw-Hill, the educational publisher that will be partnering with Apple on its announcement] will be able to use the textbooks.”

Ganesan and others also think that whatever the announcement is, it will focus around the iPad – that if a textbooks platform is built, it will be optimized for and maybe even limited to the device.

“They could truly revolutionize textbooks in ways I probably can’t even fathom,” said Francis. “[It] could relate to distance education. What if they created a virtual classroom?”

MacDonald agrees. “There has for a long time been things you can do on websites in terms of sharing content that provide a collaborative experience to students which is really valuable in terms of working on a text,” he said.

Many DBW attendees declined to comment on the record for this article for fear of alienating Apple, an important partner for many in the publishing industry.

“I would love to see a Genius recommendation engine for the iBookstore,” said one. Others speculated that whatever the announcement was, it wouldn’t disrupt the industry as much as the January 2010 announcement of the iPad did.

Regardless of what the announcement is, DBW attendees are waiting with bated breath.

“Whatever it is, I hope it’s good because there’s just so much build up,” said Francis.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Don’t miss the buzz at this year’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo in New York City from January 23 to 25.

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