True Cost of iPad Textbooks – Readers Respond

DSC03724My last post, Apple’s iPad Textbooks Cost 5x More Than Print, touched a live wire.

The majority of comments were positive. The general tone was support for iPads in the classroom (a position I share) but an appreciation for the realistic view of what it will cost to implement the vision today.

Oops – I Underestimated

The actual cost of iTexts vs. printed textbooks may be more than 6x-7x based on the experience of several Technology Directors.

In their experience a 2 year lifespan for an iPad was more realistic than the 4 years I used. The iPods they purchased just 2-3 years ago can’t run iOS 5 and are pretty banged up.

Another astute reader pointed out that I’d assumed 5 full year classes when a more realistic assumption is that a student takes a mix of semester length and annual courses – 7-8 textbooks rather than the 5 I used is probably a better baseline. This assumes 10 courses with textbooks with 2-3 of them being full year courses.

These changes move the needle further into negative territory for the iPad Textbooks.

ipad textbooks vs printed textbooks

Classroom Use Will Be Broader Than iTextbooks

Several people pointed out, quite fairly, that iPads in the classroom will be used for far more than just textbooks. I hope so! I think replacing textbooks will be the LEAST interesting use of the technology in the classroom.

But that wasn’t my focus – I was only looking at the economic impact on a typical high school. If a school chose not to implement textbooks at all on iPads they would still incur a huge incremental cost over their current spending if they give an iPad to every student (plus the cost of any apps).

However, if a school is planning on using iPad for more than just readers then the low end model I used in my analysis probably won’t cut it – shooting and editing video for example would require more memory. I haven’t made this change to the model since my focus was on textbooks – but if this is something your school is considering you should probably use the $599 32gb model in the spreadsheet.

The only case where this isn’t an incremental hit to the budget is if a school already has a 1:1 laptop program. Those schools should actually see a savings and ought to be moving in this direction as quickly as they can.

Teacher Training

A few readers took issue with how I accounted for the incremental planning time for teachers – generally stating that this is something good teachers do willingly and regularly. I agree completely with their point – good teachers are constantly titrating the content they use to the specific group of students they are working with – this is where the true art of teaching is practiced at its highest level.

But my focus was purely on the economic impact. Unless the readers meant to imply that the teachers should donate this time for free (they didn’t say that) then from an economic standpoint this prep time crowds out other activities and ought to be accounted for in this initiative.

To be fair this may not be a true incremental cost but it is a direct cost so I’m leaving it in.


I’m still working on my post on the positive impact the technology can have in the classroom as well as a post on the impact on publisher economics. Keep an eye out for those in the coming weeks and keep the comments and suggestions coming.

For more detail on the discussion visit the comment thread on the original post (link below).

Several folks requested the spreadsheet so they could put their school’s specific information in (# students, # teachers, cost of textbooks, instructional days, etc.). Email me at info at headway strategies dot com if you want a copy. I’ve updated the spreadsheet to reflect the great feedback I’ve already received.

Link to prior post


One response to “True Cost of iPad Textbooks – Readers Respond”

  1. Michael Murray says:

    A fairer comparison would use Kindles at one-quarter the cost if the sole use is to read texts. They will require no training. As you noted wiring schools has largely happened befoe e-texts became available. You should factor in the savings for the school on other books, literature and reference and the educational benefits of students creatinfg content, communicating etc. if you want to consider tablets, since they offer so much extra functionality.