The question of whether eBooks, eTexts, eHandouts and so on can be published as podcasts is an important one for educators, especially if their students are using the iTunes application, if they are using iTunes U to help deliver courseware or if they are involved at all in mLearning. Of course, we are talking about eBooks that are free because there are ample means for distributing eBooks that are not free. In the case of the new iPad, there is the iBookstore although I have not yet found a school textbook for sale there surely that's just a matter of time.
The iBookstore is currently only available via the iBooks.app on the iPad but we will see an iBooks.app for the iPhone and iPod touch as soon as iPhone OS 4.0 is released this summer. Then, too, there are many titles found in the iBookstore that are in the public domain and free. It appears that Apple has taken good advantage of the work of the Gutenberg project. All of these eBooks are in the ePub format which appears to be the de facto standard.
Thus, we're not so concerned about books that are free, in the public domain and have been digitized by Project Gutenberg or books that are not free. What we are concerned with are those free, ePub-based text books, handouts, reprints, and other documents that university faculty might want to assign to their students to read on one of these mobile devices or even on a larger, not-so-mobile computer.
Right now, we can give a qualified "yes" to this question. Here's how it works. Simply include .epub files in the RSS feed that you create for a podcast channel using same conventions that you've been using for .mp3, .mp4, mov, .m4a, .m4b, .m4v and .pdf files. The only thing that will be different is the suffix on attached files. That will be .epub.
Here's what will happen. When you subscribe to this channel using iTunes.app 9.1.1 or newer, the .epub files will become available for download according to the prefs that you've set in iTunes.app. Once downloaded, you will see these .epub files referenced in both the Podcast Library and the Books Library of the iTunes.app. Synchronizing with an iPad, those .epub documents will be placed on the shelf in the iBooks app and identified as a podcast in the list view. Ditto for iPhones and iPod touch devices with iPhone OS 4.0 (summer 2010). All of the features of the iBooks application such as bookmarking will be available as your students read these ePub-based documents.
Important caveat. Currently, iTunes U does not accept the .epub suffix in an RSS feed so if you try to subscribe to a podcast channel via the iTunes U RSS Tab feature, it will fail. However, I expect that this restriction will be lifted once all Apple mobile devices have their own iBooks application. That should be this summer.
To see this in action, subscribe to my eBook Test Channel.