MobileViews Blog

Will iBooks textbooks need ads to support expensive multimedia book development?

Apple’s multimedia iBooks textbooks fascinates me in terms of its development (Apple iBooks Author for Mac OS X) and the books themselves. One thing is clear, developing these multimedia textbooks is going to be an expensive proposition. Textbooks tend to be much more complicated publications that, for example, novels because of the the number of page components. Novels tend to be a stream of text in, for the most part, a single typeface and font size. Textbooks have sidebars, indexes, charts, photos, maps, and even objects requiring different ink colors. Adding audio, video, and interactive learning tools ups the ante for textbook development even more.

The E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth project estimates that the production and maintenance (updates) will cost millions of dollars: Initial development of Life on Earth will cost $8.5 million. Continuing costs will be approximately $1.5 million per year, including continuing development, maintenance, and bandwidth expenses. In all, we will require continuing annual support equivalent to the budget of a very small municipal museum, yet we expect to deliver value on another scale altogether

This kind of funding is probably beyond the means of most textbook authors. Even a small fraction of this production cost (say $250,000) is quite a lot for developing a textbook. So, how can a textbook development team recover costs? I wonder if Apple will all advertisements in textbooks. This could help keep the book price low or even free in some cases.

Ads would, of course, have to be less intrusive and annoying than the mockup I created to illustrate this point (see the screenshot above). And, I have not delved into Apple’s EULA to learn if this is even allowed. But, stranger things have happened. Ads inside of software was rare just a few years ago. Today, we take this for granted in, at least, mobile apps. There is precedent in the legacy print world. Science Fiction fans have probably bought paperback books with ads on pages in the rear of the book for other novels from the publisher. So, ads of some kind in a multimedia iBook may not be far fetched.