FORTUNE -- Just five months after digital book publisher Inkling launched Habitat, a set of cloud-based tools that let users create interactive books, the startup has picked up two powerful new partners. Publishing giants Pearson and Elsevier have announced multi-million dollar deals to use Inkling to build digital versions of the textbooks, scientific and technical journals they publish. The news comes on the heels of a new $16 million round of funding led by Sequoia, a bet that Inkling can help book publishers reinvent the medium for the digital age.
Since the launch of the iPad, magazines have published digital editions with videos and interactive elements you couldn't see in print. Books, however, have been slower to transform their charts, photos, and graphics because software offered by Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN) doesn't allow the same degree of interactivity. (Have you ever tried to read a graphic-heavy cookbook on a Kindle?) And building a custom app for every book is laborious both technically and time-wise, particularly for textbooks that must meet rigorous standards.
Inkling Cofounder Matt MacInnis aims to provide publishers the tools to turn their books -- specifically how-to guides, self-help titles, textbooks, and the like -- into interactive products without having to publish them again from scratch. "Our goal is to build the standard for how people build and buy content," he told me.
The company invested $30 million over three years to build out Habitat. The software allows multiple groups to collaborate on digital books simultaneously, and finished products can be published for iOS devices or for the mobile web and be easily updated with the click of a button; the company will soon add Android capabilities. Publishers can sell the books through Apple's iBookstore and other platforms, and each book created on Habitat is fully indexable by Google (GOOG).
MacInnis has said developing on Habitat brings down the cost of turning a printed page into a piece of structured web-ready content to $3 a page from an estimated $30-$60 a page. It's free for publishers and consumers, though Inkling will take a 30% cut on each sale through the Inkling store. And with its newest strategic partners, Inkling will add 1,000 new academic and medical titles, more than tripling its current library of 400 or so titles.
MacInnis, who rose to become a senior manager in charge of international education markets during the seven years he spent at Apple, is a regular at Brainstorm Tech, Fortune's annual tech conference set to kick off next Monday, July 22 in Aspen, Colo., where he'll be on hand to elaborate on that vision.
The iPad is dragging dusty college textbooks into the 21st Century. Inkling wants to lead the way.
By Richard Nieva, contributor
FORTUNE – Matt MacInnis wants tablets to overhaul how college students learn. San Francisco-based Inkling, which he founded in 2009, provides some 150 electronic textbooks for the iPad. With backing from Sequoia Capital and publishers McGraw-Hill (MHP) and Pearson (PSO), Inkling makes products that sizzle compared with paper. Text is MOREJun 29, 2012 5:00 AM ET
The flaws in Apple's plan to reinvent textbooks become apparent when you see Inkling's
One of the things the tech press missed last month when Apple (AAPL) summoned them -- satellite trucks and all -- to Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum for the unveiling of its new textbook authoring tools, is that Inkling got there first.
Launched two years ago by a former Apple educational marketing manager named Matt MacInnis, Inkling had already published MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 14, 2012 10:00 AM ET
The goal is to sell more iPads to schools, not to destroy the textbook industry
"This whole event is being blown out of proportion."
That's a former Apple (AAPL) executive talking about the media drumroll for the education announcement the company is scheduled to make Thursday at New York's Guggenheim Museum.
Case in point: The 20 headlines that topped Techmeme's news aggregator Tuesday morning, most of them lifting details from Chris Foresman's article MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 17, 2012 7:34 AM ET
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"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product ... I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." -- Jobs on Google Android (Bloomberg)
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