One of the biggest disappointments of the 2010s for me in education was the K-12 digital book market never evolved into much of anything with Apple, Amazon, or Google. They have little leverage with textbook publishers, and in reality, there is very little money to be made for the big technology publishers without making a few acquisitions. When Apple announced digital textbook support back in 2012, they had high hopes, but sadly, not much came of it. Even beyond textbooks, Apple and Amazon, have done little to reinvent the library experience in schools. Amazon would be an ideal partner for schools, but their education offering is weak. Sora looks to be the perfect solution for K–12 libraries wanting to make a digital transformation.

About Making The Grade: Every other Saturday, Bradley Chambers publishes a new article about Apple in education. He has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.

A few months back, I wrote an article about the Kindle functionality with the US public library system was a killer feature that Apple Books needed to adopt. One of the apps/services I have been testing out is Libby. Libby is built by OverDrive, who has long had integration with the US library system. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can use Libby to read ebooks on your iOS devices and listen to audiobooks. While it’s not as large as the Audible database, there are still several great options to listen/read books for free.

I recently learned about another product that OverDrive offers: Sora. Sora is to your school’s library catalog to what Libby is to your public library.

Sora is your school’s gateway to the industry’s largest catalog of ebooks and audiobooks in the classroom and beyond. Students can read and listen on any device, and teachers can assign and track students’ progress.

With Sora, schools can license a certain number of books/audiobooks for their school, and then students can log in to access them on iOS, Android, or on the web. All progress is synced back to an account the student registers when they sign up for Sora (schools have to register themselves ahead of time). Students can also access all of their licensed content across all of their devices. It also allows teachers to cater to each student’s individual reading level, create lesson plans, and more.

Almost eight years after Apple unveiled its plan to reinvent the books in the classroom, Sora has picked up the mantle. They are offering a robust platform for schools to manage, license, and loan out digital books and audiobooks. While Apple offers options to mass purchase books for schools, they don’t have a way to loan them and the get the license back in the future. For schools that reuse books year after year, this difference is a key driver.

Sora has a large catalog of books (5,000+ publishers) and offers a variety of licensing options. They offer options to purchase individual titles (perfect for frequent use books), book leases (set a number of checkouts in a pre-determined period), short term rental for groups, pay-per-use, and simultaneous (perfect for high volume titles). Sora is now available in 23,000 schools across the US. For schools that rely on Google Classroom to assign content and homework, Sora is compatible with that as well.

Wrap-up on Sora

Sora apps

I discovered Sora back in late 2019, and I’ve loved the platform. It’s really what schools are looking for when it comes to transforming their libraries into a digital model. They have the infrastructure built out. They have the content for fiction/nonfiction books. They have relationships with the publisher.

After thinking about the problems that K-12 schools face, Sora might be the platform that transforms the digital textbook market in the future. If you want to check out Sora for your school, visit their website.

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