Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A Day Before Apple’s Education Event, Chegg Points Out That Digital Textbooks Are Already Here

Nice timing. As Apple gears up for tomorrow’s event focused on digital textbooks, Chegg reminds us that there are plenty of folks who are already chasing the same market.

Chegg, which sells and rents physical and digital textbooks, is rolling out a souped-up version of its digital textbook reader, which is browser-based and built using HTML5. That means it should play nicely with Apple’s iPad in particular, but also Google Android tablets, Amazon’s Kindle Fire or any other device, mobile or not, as long as they’re plugged into an active Web connection.

The new reader also integrates features from some of the companies Chegg has been snapping up in the past few years, like a Q&A service that will come bundled with each text. This video should show off some bells and whistles:

Chegg’s news underscores the fact that Apple’s entry into the market hasn’t been held up by technical issues. And it’s not that the big textbook players refuse to publish their books in digital form: Kno is also publishing digital texts from the big guys. So is Amazon. And Barnes & Noble. Etc.

But big publishers aren’t in any hurry to fundamentally disrupt their existing businesses. Which is why their digital books look a whole lot like their print books, except that the digital books are priced below their print counterparts, to account for the fact that they can’t be resold.

And even if the publishers did want to reboot, there are ossified bureaucracies throughout the education system that make it nearly impossible to quickly adopt new technologies, let alone new texts. Digital textbooks may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean they have to get here overnight.

So if Apple’s big news Thursday is that it’s rolling out tools to let people create their own textbooks, GarageBand-style, then that may look like an end run — an effort to restart the business by bypassing lots of entrenched players. But I’d like to wait and see who Eddy Cue brings up onstage Thursday before I’m convinced of that.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald