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Apple Event: Ebook-Publishing Announcement Coming January 19?

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Another mysterious Apple event, another round of rumors leading up to the big day.

On Thursday, at 10 A.M., Apple will host an event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City -- that much we know for sure, as the invitations have been sent. The well-sourced John Paczkowski of All Things Digital hears that the event could cover publishing, specifically digital textbook publishing for the iPad (what Paczkowski called "Jobs' iTextbook Vision"); TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis heard largely the same, adding that her source expects "improvements to the iBooks platform."

Since those two rumors broke at the beginning of the new year, much has been quiet on the Apple front. And for those wondering, no one thinks that Apple is going to announce either the iPad 3 or the Apple television this Thursday. Though both are projects are believed to be in the works, neither piece of shiny new hardware is expected to be unveiled this week.

So what, specifically, can we expect? Well, a new pair of rumors from Ars Technica's Chris Foresman claims that the event will indeed center on so-called iTextbook publishing, and that the big Apple event in the Big Apple will center around a new tool for publishers to easily create interactive digital textbooks for the iPad and iPhone, what Foresman dubbed a "GarageBand for textbooks." (GarageBand is a popular desktop and iOS application from Apple that allows both amateur and professional musicians to record, mix, and produce audio in a studio-like software suite).

Textbooks had long been a pet project of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, one of the world's most famous college dropouts, who told biographer Walter Isaacson that he had always wanted to disrupt the textbook market. The consensus seems to be that Jobs' vision for what that digital destruction might look like will be unveiled on January 19 in New York, as Apple's new iTextbook creation tool could help authors large and small pen textbooks optimized for iOS devices. If the new tool has the impact that Jobs' envisioned, Apple's announcement could foretell the end of heavy, expensive textbooks. From Isaacson's biography, as quoted in Fortune"

He wanted to disrupt the textbook industry and save the spines of spavined students bearing backpacks by creating electronic texts and curriculum material for the iPad.

Many startups, most notably Kno and Inkling, have been attempting to save students' spines and disrupt the profitable world of textbook publishing for a few years now. Both Kno and Inkling make digitally optimized textbooks available for the iPad and desktop computer; both offer the textbooks at substantially lower prices than they are in print. The two companies, however, take two different routes to publishing: Kno largely leaves the textbook intact, scanning the original textbook in from the print version, while Inkling creates an entirely new textbook optimized with images, audio and video.

What Foresman of Ars Technica is proposing -- an application to create digitally optimized textbooks -- sounds much like the Inkling method, which sprinkles in three-dimensional graphs and models, relevant video and audio, and interactive quizzes at the ends of chapters. Whatever the new tool looks like, it does not appear that Apple will try to cannibalize the textbook companies' profits, given that several major publishers are expected to be in attendance. Rather, Apple will simply attempt to succeed where both Kno and Inkling have (thus far) failed, in making digital textbooks a much more widespread, more accepted norm. (Philip Elmer Dewitt of Fortune points out that this goal is not entirely philanthropic on Apple's part, as making digital textbooks the norm carries with it the effect of selling more iPads).

On January 17, at the site where Apple and Rupert Murdoch announced iPad-optimized newspaper The Daily one year ago, Apple will apparently once again attempt to transform an industry. The world -- and a world of spavined students -- will be watching.

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