Why the Apple textbook program will never work

Why the Apple textbook program will never work

Summary: The Apple textbook initiative announced recently is dead in the water due to one condition hidden in the details.


Apple stirred up a lot of folks with the recent entry into the school textbook business. The combination of the new iBooks 2 app for the iPad, the iBooks Author app to create interactive textbooks, and partnership with major textbook publishers have cemented Apple's foray into the major publishing venture that handles textbooks. A lot of analysis has already examined this effort to determine how likely it might be to become a major factor in the textbook industry. All complicated reasoning aside, there is one simple detail that guarantees school districts cannot ever participate in the Apple textbook program.

My colleague Ed Bott has done a thorough job tearing apart the Apple licensing agreements and technical details that turn the iBooks textbook program into a "mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement". He's also looked into the overlooked fact that Apple has quietly shot down the defined ePub standard through its implementation. It is worth checking out the following coverage to get a thorough understanding of what Apple has undertaken, and how it affects all of those participating in the new textbook business.

I am not an expert on the complicated textbook industry in the U. S., but some research into Apple's terms and conditions of the iBookstore/ textbook handling turned up what I believe will prevent it from going anywhere. Textbooks will be sold to individual school districts through a volume purchase program from Apple.

The school district sets up a volume account with Apple, and purchases "volume vouchers" to handle textbooks for the organization. These vouchers can be in whatever amount desired, and are not tied to any particular textbooks nor volume of books. The definition of volume vouchers from Apple:

Volume Vouchers are physical cards in denominations of $100, $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000 that can be used to purchase apps and books in the Volume Purchase Program Education Store. They cannot be used to purchase apps or books directly from the App Store or the iBookstore. The cards are shipped via Federal Express or UPS, so they can be easily tracked. You should receive your Volume Vouchers three to five business days after ordering them.

If I was an administrator of a school district looking into the Apple textbooks, this would scare the hell out of me. Thousands of budget dollars are tied to what is basically an open credit card for buying stuff from Apple. The accounting nightmare to protect district assets is tremendous.

Once the school district purchases a volume voucher, the real fun begins. While the purchase pool is intended to sell textbooks, they are not sold to the organization that funded the voucher. The purchasing organization is given codes to distribute to end users for purchasing textbooks from the district pool. According to Apple, each textbook purchase is handled individually, and is between Apple and the end user making the purchase through a private Apple account.

In the case of books, the student as the end user must redeem the book using his or her own Apple ID, and the student owns the book.

This alone is a deal breaker with federal and state funding that goes toward funding school districts, and removes any overseeing organization from ownership of any textbooks, even though they are paying for them all. Apple has created a system that cannot fly in a world where everything must be accounted for to the penny, and school districts are trying to stretch budgets to the limit. The system pays for everything, but the end user/student "buys" it from Apple. This will not fly on any level, as it means that purchased textbooks cannot be reused from year to year. They "belong" to the individual student, forever.

Topic: Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

    Where I live (and I believe this would be the same in the US), you can only create an Apple-id when you have a credit card. That alone looks like a serious deal-breaker to me...
    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work


      You don't need a credit card to create an Apple ID. There is an option to select "none" when setting up in iTunes. I just did it last night for my Niece and Nephew for their iPods they got for Christmas.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

        @bobiroc But to use the App Store, you have to have one even if all you want is the free stuff!
      • RE: you have to have one....

        @Peter Perry

        Really? I have no credit card on file with my iTunes accounts for both my wife and I on our iPhones. We set it up without one and added iTunes gift cards to each account and we work off that credit. Download apps (free or paid) all the time without issue.
        • As Usual

          ((I have no credit card on file with my iTunes accounts for both my wife and I on our iPhones))

          The biggest critics don't own any products and know absolutely nothing about Apple.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

        @Peter Perry

        You do not need credit card for iTunes, until you want to buy something non-free.
    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

      @belli_bettens@... @ Peter Perry.

      You can always redeem a gift card and you don't need a credit card to create an id.
  • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

    I am from South America, and i can say that I would never allow my child to carry a tablet pc here. They would be robbed the first week of school. Safety first. I do not know about the U.S. but in Central and South America economies are very tough, and the tougher the economy gets, the more petty theft.
    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work


      Not a problem here in the USA. Though I'm sure there will be some isolated incidents here and there, we have much lower crime rate, much lower number of people living in such adverse poverty, and better law inforcement. Sorry that you have to live in such a hostile environment.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work


        You obviously do not live in an "inner city" do you?
      • I'm not sure which USA you live in

        But, I doubt it's the real version. I feel safer in Tottenham than I do when in Los Angeles or Boston.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

        @gtdworak Actually it IS a problem in the USA no matter if one lives in an inner city or an affluent neighborhood.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work


        iPod theft is one of the largest categories of crimes in the NYC subway system, which is used by many children to get to/from school. I shudder to think of what would happen if crooks knew that virtually every child under 18 riding the subway on a school day was carrying an iPad.
      • Was that tongue in cheek??


        There is enough crime in enough areas that its still somewhat of a concern. If you dont think kids have been getting their iPhones and iPods ripped off for years you live in a very special sheltered place indeed.
      • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

        @gtdworak Wow.. seriously? So.. those schools where they put in metal detectors are a Liberal media scare tactic thing? [/sarcasm]

    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

      @haleron you are WRONG, but not in a bad way. A credit is not an absolute requirement, you may sign up with a gift card as well, when you are ready tp purchase something non-free.
    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work


      Do they carry cell phones? Do you get them nice clothing? Where does one draw the line. I recall shoes were the thing to steal back in my elementary school days. Does that still happen?

      One possible solution: Make tablets ubiquitous and trackable. Eliminate the margins on the stolen goods.
  • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

    Except a lot of school districts were already starting pilot programs using Apple iPads before they had course textbooks available.

    Now these same school programs have access to innovative and legitimate course textbooks from established educational textbook publishers.

    I don't know. It seems to me that if the adoption rate of iPads in school systems was increasing before the Apple textbook initiative was announced, that adoption rate can only increase following this new development.
  • Counter argument

    I hear the logistical concerns raised by the author. I agree that this would be a deal breaker if the product were on par with print textbooks. In my evaluation (of the Macgraw Hill Physics title) the eTextbooks are superior to print in the following ways:
    * Interactivity
    * Potential for enhanced student directed learning
    * Price
    * Weight / portability
    * Integration with a free Learning Management System (iTunesU)

    So if these benefits are worth figuring out the accounting side then organizations will figure it out.

    Also here is how to make an apple I'd without a credit card, works great: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht2534
    • RE: Why the Apple textbook program will never work

      We use Apple IDs created by the school district (without credit cards) to install textbooks and apps on district devices. That way we don't loose the license.