Apple’s iBooks Textbooks: 4 Reasons to Be Skeptical

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I should know better than to look at a new Apple creation and call it an outright failure. The company’s batting average is too high lately. There’s not a lot of room for nay-saying.

Still, I think a dose of skepticism doesn’t hurt with Apple’s latest announcement of iBooks Textbooks, a platform for publishing interactive, digital textbooks on the iPad. There’s no denying that interactive, digital textbooks are the future, but let’s not get too excited about Apple’s particular solution just yet.

(MORE: Apple Rolls Out iPad Textbooks, Publishing Software for Teachers)

Here are the challenges that iBooks Textbooks will have to overcome to be educational game-changers:

High Initial Cost

Because iPads start at $500 a pop — probably less in volume, educational pricing — they’ll be considered a luxury by taxpayers. Schools who want iPad textbooks will either have to lay out hundreds of thousands of dollars up front, or decide which students should be privileged enough to get the tablets first. Woe is the school board that has to make that decision. Also, unless a school goes all-in, it’ll still have to rely on paper textbooks, relegating iPads to gimmick status in a handful of classrooms.

Ongoing Risks

Putting a $500 tablet in the hands of a grade school student is a risk. The iPad could get damaged, scratched or stolen, especially if it leaves school grounds — a necessity if children are going to study at home. Replacing a lost or damaged textbook is much cheaper than replacing a tablet, which means parents might not want to put expensive tablets in the hands of their children. Until tablets as whole get a lot cheaper, this isn’t going to change.

The Books Aren’t Really Cheaper

Apple’s promise of $15 textbooks seems like a welcome change from the typically exorbitant price of print books, but it could actually be more expensive for schools in the long run. As All Things Digital reports, publishers expect to sell e-book copies on a per student, per year basis, which means after five years, schools will have spent more money than they would have on a $75 print book – not including the cost of the iPad. And of course, e-books won’t be transferable between students or devices. While iBooks Textbooks may be better educational tools than print, they’re not cheaper.

The Chicken and Egg Problem

At launch, iBooks only has eight textbooks to choose from, TechCrunch reports. Although we can assume the number of books will increase over time, Apple now faces the same chicken and egg problem as any new platform: Schools won’t invest in iPads without enough textbooks to suit their specific needs, and publishers won’t make huge investments in this new kind of textbook unless there’s a large potential customer base.

(MORE: Apple’s Textbooks: Undeniably Cool, But Will They Help Students?)