About a year ago I gave a presentation in which I said: “Somewhere in a warehouse in Brooklyn, there’s a group of guys and gals living on Jolt cola and cold pizza creating a publishing platform direct to the iPad. It will allow authors to create interactive textbooks, publish directly to the iBookstore, and to take a 70% royalty, not 15 or 20.” I did not know any of this to be true. But I had a hunch; it just seemed inevitable.
A few months later, it turned out my guess was right – PushPop Press (yes, I even had the “based in Brooklyn” part right) announced their first interactive book, Al Gore’s Our Choice. The Vice President’s latest book on the environment – for the iPad only - provides an immersive reading experience, with photos that can be moved and enlarged, views of data on graphs that can be adjusted by the reader, and embedded video and voice overs. It is a stunning book, and I recommend it – for the content, but also for the delivery. What was even more significant to me was that PushPop announced at the same time that they were about to make available the software that would let authors create such books, and publish them to the iPad. That was significant to me because I have long argued that we need better and more interactive textbooks for legal education. It is what I said three years ago in the Law School 2.0 book, and why I have been working on the Skills & Values Series with Lexis for the last two years. The reality is that if we are going to teach law in a different way - a 2.0 way - we need different teaching materials. The traditional casebook just will not work. This question is also deeply intertwined with the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers project, about which you can learn more here.
And then this summer, the stunning and disappointing news that PushPop Press had been sold to Facebook before they could release this software, and they were no longer going to deliver the product others could use, or any other eBook. At the time, that announcement was both an inexplicable setback and a disappointment.
This morning at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple made an announcement that might explain why PushPop decided to fold its tent. Apple announced today a new software product called iBook Author, which allows authors to create interactive books for the iPad and sell them direct to customers through the iBookstore. And, just like apps in the iTunes store, authors get to keep a 70% royalty. Oh, and Apple has made the iBook Author software available for free (although it runs only on the Mac).
From my point of view, this is a significant development. When the iPad came out, I posted here about that development, which was a very important one in the journey towards the interactive eTextbook future. But in the last two years there has not been much to talk about – publishers have been figuring out what to do with it, and authors have been unsure whether to commit to the platform. The iPad gave us the platform, and while it has taken two years Apple has now sold more than 50 Million of them. Not surprisingly, they are becoming more common in law schools. In the last year, I have seen them appear in my classes, and in faculty meetings too.
But there is another critical step needed. Until now the reason to use an iPad to contain and use your law school textbook has been essentially nil because publishing the kind interactive textbooks that I have long envisioned for law school was difficult and expensive and so we just have not seen them yet. But with Apple's launch of the iBook Author software, professors who want to use their own teaching materials (sometimes called a “course pack”) and to make them available on the iPad can do this with relative ease. For more extensive law books, professors who have current publishing contracts will want to speak with their publisher about whether they could get some help publishing their book in this format, and to begin to think about what interactive elements would make their book more engaging and useful for their students.
It is probably not entirely a coincidence that West – an information giant in the legal field – has just announced that they are divesting their Law School Publishing Division. Just selling it off. Apparently, they no longer want to be in the business of producing what I have called "dinosaur" textbooks for legal education. Click here to read their letter to authors about this.
Of course, for Apple, their move is about selling more iPads. There is much discussion today in the blogosphere about how the EULA in the software requires an author who uses it to publish an iBook – and wants to charge for it - can only post the book for sale there. That is, the author cannot separately make the iBook they produce with the Apple software available for a download from their own website (unless they make it free). Although this is a new and fairly brazen requirement for the output of software (can you imagine such a requirement for everything you've written in Microsoft Word?) this seems a reasonable restriction to me. Apple is offering the tool and the platform – the “end-to-end” solution - that has been elusive so far in this space. Perhaps a reasonable analogy is that when you want a booth at a conference to gain exposure to your target audience, you have to pay for the booth, and it's only useful there.
But over time, we will probably see more open solutions - ones that work on the PC too - and that allow authors to publish eBooks simultaneously to the iBookstore for download to the iPad and to Amazon for download to the Kindle Fire.
In the meantime, this is a significant step for education - and thus for legal education too. I highly recommend that you view the demonstration video on Apple’s site - it explains in beautiful Apple style what they have done (complete with compelling cello music in the background). If you would like more information about Apple's announcement from a more objective source than Apple, you might want to read this article at Wired. Some other interesting views of Apple's announcement can be found here, here, and here.
I welcome your thoughts about this development - please post them in the Comments.