Amazon: "Primed" to disrupt Apple's textbook plans?

Summary:Apple may have thrown down the gauntlet for the iPad in education, but don't count Amazon out.

So. Apple. A huge library of textbooks for $14.99 each and a free authoring program for rich textbook content.

That about sums up this last week's events.

Oh wait. You can only sell that content produced with iBooks Author on the App Store and of course all of those texts are stuck in Apple's "Walled Garden".

Are we supposed to be surprised that this is the way Cupertino wants to do business? No, of course not.

It does bring up the issue however that if Apple becomes successful in making iBooks electronic textbooks a successful enterprise and an educational standard, a "digital underclass" might be created for those who cannot afford to purchase electronic texts if paper texts become no longer economically feasible to produce.

While I projected that this is probably more likely to happen faster to our public library system than our educational system, it does bring up the disturbing thought that iBooks textbooks might not be an affordable solution for most public school systems and only privileged, wealthy school systems will benefit from them.

I mean, to use iBooks Textbooks, the student needs to own an Apple iOS device. And realistically, you're going to need an iPad to read them, which currently have an entry cost of $500. That might be a reasonable expense for a university student to absorb on their own, but a public school system?

An iPad for every child?C'mon.

And before you tell me that Apple is going to drop the prices on basic iPads to under $300.00 because the company is feeling particularly philanthropical towards our poor children so they can read these wonderful rich content textbooks, stop dreaming.

The company nor its late founder has never been known for their philanthropy nor have their educational discounts on hardware been particularly generous in recent years.

Apple wants to make money, and lots of it. A 30 percent cut of sales on the texts and continued healthy margins on their hardware.

For the time being, iBooks Textbooks are targeted at K-12, not universities, so who exactly is going to pay for these iPads, public school systems? Our tax dollars?

Look, I'm not not saying that Apple's iBooks 2.0 technology or their iBooks Author tool isn't impressive. I've looked at both the tool and the sample textbook material it produces, and it's cool stuff.

But this is like saying a Porsche or a Corvette might be a cool car for your teenager when a Hyundai Accent or a Ford Escort will suffice.

If I may quote Master Yoda, "There is another."

Amazon, which is the world leader in electronic book sales and distribution is almost certainly not going to lie down and take it while upstart, elitist Apple treads over their blue collar books for the masses turf.

Amazon has the relationships and the financial moxie and then some to match Apple's deals with the book publishers and broker arrangements with the school systems. Quite frankly, while they too have a proprietary platform that also locks you into their ecosystem, it's got a lot more breathing room.

Of the two devils you want to deal with, Amazon is the much more warm and fuzzier one to sell your soul to.

The Amazon Kindle platform runs on literally everything. Cheap e-readers, web browsers, Macintosh and Windows PCs, iPads and Androids. At least as a K-12 or college student, on Amazon's platform, you've got a choice.

And if there needed to be a rich color content viewer for textbooks, you can pretty much be guaranteed that Amazon has the ability to work with public schools and even universities to get one manufactured and subsidized.

A 10.1" Kindle Fire would likely sell for $299 retail to the regular public. Knocking off another $100 for students and educational institutions provided certain commitments were made is not out of the question.

And can you say $150 7" Kindle Fires for educators and students? I knew that you could.

Now, it could be argued that with iBooks Author and iBooks 2, Apple currently has the ability to sell much richer content than Amazon does now. But I don't think your average high school or junior high school student is going to be equipped with iPads just yet.

Amazon has plenty of time to catch up -- and I suspect this is an area they have been working on for some time now.

There is the issue of advanced book formats and authoring tools where Apple now has a lead. One way that Amazon could erase that lead is partnering with a company that knows content creation better than anyone.

Say, Adobe, whose InDesign software is already the leading tool for e-book authoring.

I don't think it is that it is implausible that Amazon could offer a free version of InDesign specifically targeted towards the creation of book content for Kindle-enabled devices. Particularly if the offer was extended to Prime members to offset the subsidy costs to Adobe.

It would be nice if this tool could produce open EPUB output, and if Amazon could take a leadership position in furthering the open EPUB format and adopt it for its own Kindle content instead of the legacy MOBI/AZW, but that might be wishing for too much.

In addition to the tool itself, I also envision Amazon possibly offering a "Prime for Education". Essentially, this would be the same Amazon Prime we all know and love, with the same benefits, but it would be offered at a discount to students and educators.

[EDIT: Amazon already offers a version of Prime discounted under its Amazon Student program.]

Such a service could include additional value-added benefits such as a textbook loaner library, integrated social networking for teachers and students, and electronic textbook curriculum listing and procurement services for participating schools, so that a specific K-12 system could buy e-book entitlements in bulk based on a list of titles targeted towards their students for that year.

I could also see it used potentially with the Amazon Cloud to host other selected materials for educational systems, such as films and music and multimedia coursework via Amazon Video and Amazon Cloud Player. In short, an Amazon competitor to iTunes University.

Can Amazon disrupt Apple's electronic textbook plans with a competitive offering of their own? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Apple, Amazon

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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