With the advent of the iPad and other mobile devices that support eBook readers, the eBook is enjoying a renaissance. The most widely adopted eBook format is the ePub open standard. There is now a well-established ePub eco-system comprised of software tools for creating and maintaining eBooks as well as a wide variety of devices for reading them. Of great interest in academia is the fact that much of the software needed to create, transform, convert and manage .epub files is free. This will become ever more important as educators rely more and more on digital content.
Thus, I can create .epub files using free, cross-platform software and students can consume that content using a variety of mobile and not-so-mobile devices. Using an iPad, for example, my students would simply drag the .epub files that I provide into the Books library of the iTunes application and then synch with the iPad. I could simply post those .epub files to my Faculty Web Server account for download.
However, as an academic using iTunes U, I am very eager to learn whether and how eBooks can be distributed using the same podcasting model as is now used by iTunes U to distribute audio, video and PDF files. The advantages of offering content via podcasting over simple file services are many, including being able to more easily restrict access, use subscription to schedule delivery of content over the semester timeline and extending the benefits of content aggregation (automated organization) to my students.
Although we frequently think about eBooks as novel-length tomes, the format will also support shorter works such as a textbook chapters, assignments, journal articles and the like. An eText and supplementary content could be delivered in serialized form throughout the semester. The problem, right now, is that neither the iTunes application nor iTunes U will handle files carrying the .epub suffix. This is a decision that only Apple can take but we can certainly lobby for it and I think that we should. I mention this to anyone at Apple who will listen and I have also signed up for a free developer account so that I can submit "enhancement requests" via bugreport.apple.com