What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

Summary: The eTextbook industry got a big publicity and market education boost last week with Apple's announcements. What it didn't get was the market revolution it could have.

ZDNet and countless other sites, both tech and general, educational and otherwise, have already featured everything from glowing reviews to scathing commentary on Apple's textbook announcement last week. Now that the dust has settled, though, and we've had some time to reflect (as well as use the product), is this the disruptive move that many of us were expecting? Unfortunately, the answer is no. It's an important move, an influential move, and an "it's about time" move, but iBooks is going to be much more of a catalyst than anything that is going to save schools boatloads of money or make the electronic textbook finally go mainstream. In fact, a closed ecosystem just might put us a few steps back. There is no doubt that the textbooks created for iBooks are beautiful. They are models of interactive, next-generation eTextbooks. Same goes for eBooks created through iBooks Author, the complementary Apple software that allows any Mac user (at least those running OS X Lion, unless you feel like jumping through hoops to make it work on Snow Leopard) to create very pretty books. Great...nice job putting a user-friendly tool into teachers' and content experts' hands. However... I think Audrey Watters probably said it best over on Hack Education:
you can't really say that you're going to "change everything" when it comes to textbooks and announce that your partners are the 3 companies who already control 90% of the textbook market. You can't say that you're going to disrupt the textbook industry by going digital when Pearson -- one of those big 3 and, indeed, the largest educational company in the world -- made over $3 billion from digital content last year alone...
There isn't a week that goes by that I don't talk with schools and teachers about our tendency to apply a thin veneer of technology to the same old pedagogies and call it "21st Century Learning." Unfortunately, that's precisely what Apple has done here. Deliver pretty, interactive books from major publishers. Sure, they've also allowed teachers to potentially create their own e-book content (and other authors for that matter), but, as others have reported, the EULA for iBooks Author and terms around created content are just painfully obvious in their attempts at Apple lock-in and removal of intellectual property rights that Apple probably shouldn't have bothered. No matter how easy it is to produce compelling content in iBooks Author, its lack of consideration for authors and students ensures that I will never use it beyond the testing I did. And don't even get me started on the price of the books or on DRM. At their intro price of $15 a piece, for a brief second the eTexts from the big publishers sounded almost too good to be true. Remember what they say about things that sound too good to be true? That's right. They usually are. In this case, the one advantage of dead tree books goes away, namely the potential cost savings found by sharing or rotating books among sections and subsequent years of students. In the case of these books, every student who needs to access a copy needs a license. There are no options for volume or shared licenses. There is no way to transfer licenses. Publishers (and Apple) will once again make out like bandits and eBooks will end up costing schools more than their dead tree equivalents, despite the promise of exactly the opposite. And, of course, there's the cost of the iPads required to read these oh-so-pretty books. Again, I defer to Audrey Watters:
So if this is a revolutionary announcement about reshaping textbooks and educational content, we must ask revolutionary for whom? For wealthy schools? For students who have iPads at home and parents willing to pay out of pocket for supplementary textbook materials? For publishers?
I think the latter is actually the most likely. Perhaps most telling are the user comments in the Mac App Store. Scattered among the glowing reviews of the Apple faithful (before the flames start, by the way, bear in mind that I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro, connected to the web via my Airport Extreme, with no less than five other Apple devices in my house that see heavy use every day) are some much rougher opinions:
"This is totally useless as far as science textbooks are concerned..." "Arbitrary limitations make an otherwise nice app disappointing" "Output limitations make it a *no-go* "No Snow Leopard Support? Really, Apple?" "Great idea ruined..."
So, back to my original question. How does this affect the eTextbook industry? Actually, its lack of expected awesomeness means that the industry remains wide open for a company (or companies) that actually gets what educator-generated content should be. Teachers are, in theory, subject matter experts who should be more than capable of pulling together educational resources and creating a book (or wiki, or whatever) that caters to their students' needs and the particular curricula upon which a school has agreed. This is where every company from CK12 to Inkling to Kno (and, believe it or not, to Pearson) to all of those startups just waiting to make sure that Apple wasn't going to steal their thunder and business models comes in. Apple has done us all a huge favor here. There aren't many people with an iPad who aren't thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could put together a book. The more educators understand that there are ways to make sure students have the educational content they need with being chained to expensive dead tree books, the better we all are. I had the chance to talk on Friday with Osman Rashid, co-founder and CEO of Kno. While he noted that Apple's announcement centered on K12 education while his company deals primarily with eTextbooks for higher ed, what Apple really did was elevate the profile of eTextbooks and the need for innovation in the field. It's quite clear that there is plenty of room for competition here. More importantly, there is a huge amount of room for innovation and tools that are as accessible as iBooks but drastically more open. As Rashid pointed out, now that we are approaching agency pricing on electronic texts, companies will have to compete on their products rather than the pricing they can deliver. I would argue that a big part of this will be the ability to achieve much lower costs by incorporating open educational resources and teacher-generated content. Kirsten Winkler and I spent a fair amount of time talking about this during our weekly review:ed podcast on Friday and had some great insights from Dave Schappell, founder of Teachstreet.

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Apple's mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement How Apple is sabotaging an open standard for digital books Amazon: "Primed" to disrupt Apple's textbook plans? Apple's textbook plan's biggest flaw is that it's tied to the iPad

Topics: CXO, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    I would be interested to see how an implementation of a textbook like 'Molecular Biology of the Cell' could possibly work on an iPad. It's 1300 print pages, profusely illustrated and would probably require 2600 iPad pages to have the same content.

    The sample Biology book that I installed with iBooks2, is really quite light in terms of content but is quite flashy to look at.
    Grumpy Bob
    • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

      I predict iBooks will make a lot of money for Apple, but won't start the revolution they expect.

      While Apple promotes closed materials, Google (and others) will promote open courseware initiatives, which relies on internet, instead of gigantic downloads.

      Think of Wikipedia, MIT OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy. They are excellent resources, constantly improving, and available for free.

      As I said: iBooks will make a lot of money for Apple, but the revolution is on the open road.
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    It is interesting how Apple always seems to be dumped on by tech writers when they stir up a stagnant industry? In the end it comes down to how people respond that will tell.
    • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

      @CowLauncher I think it is more that they get dumped on when they pander to stagnant industries, whilst trying to make a quick buck.

      As Christopher say, and for once I agree with him, this is just jacking up prices for schools or it is for rich families. Most of the families I know couldn't afford an iPad, let alone one for every child and there is no way, that they would buy the text books. They currently pay the annual pittance that the schools request for the loan of the relevant books. If the book is lost or badly damaged, they have to pay for a new copy, otherwise they are handed back at the end of the year and passed on to the next year.

      The school then buys new copies to make up the shortfall or when new editions are released.

      Any electronic system needs to work on this same principal - maybe on an annual letting scheme, where each student gets a book plan, where they can download the books they need, which are then invalidated at the end of the year. The system needs to also be platform independent - whether the school provides iPads, OLPC Tablets, Android, on PCs etc.
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    OLPC Tablet is the future of Textbooks. I'm sure they will use a DRM free model and there tablet are not expensive and are break proof. Check out this cool article and video.
    • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

      @ginoyann As long as OLPC isn't stalled by Ballmer crying that MS isn't on it.
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    ebook, epub, ibook, pdf, text, apps, websites !
    What is needed in this "affair" is a new role more than anything else.
    This new role could be described as "personal contracts/licences holder" "account managers for personal contract/licences and login/passwds or certificates", something like that, several of them of course, and ability to move all your "assets" or "belongings" from one to the other, so that a trust relationship can exist regarding the privacy of these data (and privacy of these data also under strong legal constraints for these organisations).
    Then you can have an environment with a clear role separation between these organisations on one side, and editors, on line shops, on line content holders and difusers on the other.
    Which then could allow a user to buy an ebook, apps, websites (access to) "for life"(or with some timing guarenteed in a strict legal point of view, but "for life" in spirit), possibility of upgrade if new edition and you feel like it, and that's it.
    Enough with these "private bookshelves"(msuic, video, sito shelves) linked to some device maker, on line shops, "social network", or some other giant !
    A bit more developed below :
    (and in the "copies_licences" text (2007) linked in the post)
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    TEXTBOOKS must be open architecture, open standards, and open readability - or they are pretty fixtures for Steve Jobs' heirs and Bill Gates' partners to get rich from marketing.
    I LOVE technology; it has given me a steady income and great friends, all without having to sit through 4 mind-numbing years of college. BUT - technology is a TOOL, not a 'be-all, end all' for Apple OR Microsoft, or anyone ELSE, to cure all the world's ills.
    As long as some Madison Avenue Mad Man is going to try to make a fortune off marketing eTextbooks to schools that have LIMITED budgets, by FORCING them to buy a FULL SET OF BOOKS EVERY YEAR, one for each student - plus an iPad, or the equivalent in some OTHER hardware configuration - forget it! Schools will continue using dead trees, and we will continue to educate our children using antiquated methods. Which, BTW, can and do still work pretty well, just not as well, or as easily, as all those nice, pretty new ones.
    And some guy or gal with the chutzpah to start from scratch and design the software (and possibly the hardware) to do it RIGHT, will make the money, garner the fame, and REALLY revolutionize education in this country - just as both Steve Jobs AND Bill Gates did with Personal Computing.
    Any takers on that bet?
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    Apple's entry into the eTextbook industry has but one purpose and that is to sell iPads.
    Any school that adopts iBooks will be forcing parents, many of whom can't afford $600 for a toy, to buy an iPad. Apple sells tens of millions more iPads and collects their usual 30% cut of every eTextbook sold.
    Ain't capitalism grand?
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    By partnering with the publishing companies, you are correct in assuming that Apple has changed nothing. Their licensing structure as well as their inability to really change the content locks schools into a failed concept.

    Teachers however, are not relying on that textbook as much. Building their own content and releasing it for free is the future of education. They need training and guidance to do that, but most textbooks never really update the "standards" around which they were originally based. They slap new covers on things and say "updated for the Common Core!" They're not.

    What Apple HAS done for education however, is make it very, very easy to take some of the content that many (not all...lets not kid ourselves...) teachers are preparing on their own and release it to students, many of whom (I teach in a rural area in Northern Michigan with a high poverty rate. If it's true there, it's got to be true elsewhere) already have an iPod touch, an iPad, etc. That's where the focus should be.
  • RE: What does iBooks mean for the eBook/eTextbook industry?

    Very insightful article on literature and the evolution that fashions it.<br><br><br><br>-MA<br><a href="http://www.classStudy.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.classStudy.com</a>
  • Yep, partnering with the 3 big publishers is NOT the way to go

    **Disclaimer: I'm the CEO of Ginkgotree, a DIY textbook app**

    What are the two big problems with textbooks? 1. They haven't changed in what, 50 years!? (Oh, they got color print at some point).
    2. They cost three figures!
    The "big 3" are the ones who have failed us on these two fronts. Partnering with Apple might offer some advantages on the innovations front... but it certainly won't fix the cost issue.

    We've built an awesome solution to this very problem. It's similar to iBooks author in that an educator can build their own "textbook" but it's not locked down to any one platform, and allows you top use copyrighted books from *any* publisher, page by page. If you're looking for a real change with your course material, check us out: http://www.ginkgotree.com