Here at the first of two days of the SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit, Neal Goff, the president of Egremont Associates, a K-12 publishing and technology marketing consulting firm, spoke about the changing landscape of e-textbooks in primary and secondary education.
Goff began by outlining the largest players in this field: Amazon, with the Kindle; Barnes and Noble, with the Nook; and Apple, with its iBooks and iBooks Author announcement. But he added that none of these three companies are making it particularly easy to integrate those e-readers into schools.
"I don't think these companies are serious about the education market yet," he said. For instance, none of the aforementioned products can load books or materials in bulk—they must be loaded one at a time, which can be both frustrating and time-consuming for schools' IT staff.
"The market opportunity isn't big enough yet to devote the resources it takes to make it really easy for institutions to buy, for instance, 500 iPads, load them in bulk, [and] administer multiple passwords and accounts," Goff continued. "That's a very solvable problem that the major e-book publishers have yet to solve."
Goff also said the hesitancy of the three big companies to jump into the education market makes this a prime opportunity for smaller, "scrappier" companies to throw themselves into the mix. He pointed to Capstone Digital's myON Reader as an example.
"[The big three] publishers tend not to be nimble, and they have legacy business to protect," he said, while young, start-up companies have little to lose.
Kurt Gerdenich, from Cengage Learning, spoke about the trends of e-book sales in the higher education marketplace. One of the major differences between K-12 and higher ed., he pointed out, is that in postsecondary education, the student is the consumer. Keeping that in mind should be the starting point for companies hoping to break into this space, he said.
He warned against pigeon-holing students and forcing them to choose between print and digital.
"They will want the ability to buy print if they like print, and to buy digital if they like digital," said Gerdenich.
Even though today's students may be tech-savvy, many still rely on the convenience and portability of the printed textbook and want that to remain an option, he said. In fact, e-books only make up a small portion of total textbook sales in today's market.
Both Gerdenich and Goff admitted the journey from print textbooks to e-book is far from over, and there are still a lot of unknowns. Goff said that at this point, there are "no emerging players" and that this transition is helping to democratize the publishing process, allowing for smaller, new companies to work their way into the landscape. However, knowing how it will all shake out is still a ways away, he said.
"I think it's going to be chaotic for some time to come," he said.