We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again, Apple has big plans for eBooks and its future Apple tablet will help kickstart yet another change in publishing, just as the Mac helped launch the notion of desktop publishing.

Apple is reportedly engaged in extremely high level talks with senior executives from across the publishing industry with a view to making eBooks available to the tablet, and while these may start as the kind of text-based publications you’d find on a Kindle, these will advance to become true multimedia content delivery vehicles.

Perhaps a sign of what’s to come is visible in iTunes Extras/LP. These combine multiple assets and can be purchased from iTunes. They are designed to replicate the DVD or album experience, and while the jury’s out on their success in that, they clearly offer opportunities for the creation and distribution of engaging content.

Now Gizmodo tells us that Apple has been in talks with newspapers, magazines and book publishers, including the New York Times, McGraw Hill and Oberlin Press.

The entire vision relates to Apple’s future tablet, Gizmodo explains: “Several years ago, a modified version of OS X was presented to Steve Jobs, running on a multitouch tablet. When the question of "what would people do with this?" couldn’t be answered, they shelved it. Long having established music, movie and TV content, Apple is working hard to load up iTunes with print content from several major publishing houses across several media.”

The report continues to explain a meeting held on Apple’s Cupertino campus between Apple executives and senior figures from across the publishing industry. This followed an internal Apple competition the winning idea of which was textbook distribution through iTunes, a vision that’s already got strong foundations through iTunes U.

There’s even been a major example of what the vision could be, with Dan Brown’s recent new book also made available as an iPhone application. This title explores various potential advantages in digital reading, with support for notes, changing font styles, suggested reading, and tell a friend features, as well as the classic eBook experience.

Talks are understood to be gathering intensity at this stage, as Apple heads toward its purported January introduction of the Apple tablet. And hints that as both a creative tool and as a device for accessing Apple’s growing empire of digital content, Microsoft’s Courier has a lot of catching-up to do – after all, all we’ve seen of that so far shows Redmond’s vision is no more than as a glorified sketch/scrapbook. And scrapbooks are cheap.

Joel Rickett, editorial director of Penguin’s Viking Books, told The Observer newspaper: "The ebook is very quickly becoming a publishing reality and The Lost Symbol (iTunes link) will be one of the fastest-selling books of recent times.
"Once people can flip between books, look up references online and switch to an audio reading, everything will change very quickly."

Other recent activity came in the iTunes release of the Mayhem comic book in the iTunes LP format (iTunes Link). As John Fortt at Fortune noted, "Maybe the tools Apple created to digitize Gibson’s Mayhem comic will be part of an author’s kit with that oft-rumored Apple tablet?"

This followed Apple boss Steve Jobs statement to the New York Times that Apple doesn’t see eBooks as a big business – for the company.
Being a big business for Apple doesn’t necessarily mean eBooks aren’t a potentially big business for its platforms. eBooks are the second-biggest content category on iTunes after games, so there’s a proper eBook gold rush surging up. It’s just that Apple doesn’t publish the books…but it does create the platform – particularly its mobile platforms.

Also bear in mind Coolerbooks.com and its recent move to partner with Google to launch the world’s biggest online ebookstore – 40 times bigger than Waterstones it aims to offer over two million titles by the end of 2009, with one million titles available right now.

Initially, however, Apple hopes to use its leading advantage in the education market to help popularise its tablet, as we surmised in an August report.

When it comes to the education markets, Apple already knows the score. “We teach teachers not just about Apple solutions, but also how to create content that’s suitable for digital learning,” Apple’s director of EMEA education markets, Herve Marchet, told Macworld UK. "If you want to play in the education market, you need to be a solutions provider. You aren’t just bringing in the machine, you must also offer appropriate software, content and models for best practise in content creation.”

And beyond Apple, Disney (a company which has, erm, Apple CEO Steve Jobs on its board) today launched Disney Digital Books, which it terms, "reading made magical".

The eBook gold rush is now on….

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