The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

Summary: Apple's new iBooks textbooks will widen the digital gap between the educational haves and have-nots.

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Apple's iBooks2's reinvented textbooks really are something. They're gorgeous, they're fast, they're real-time interactive with up to date information and they'll only cost $14.99 or less. But, to use them, you'll need an iPad--minimum list price: $499.

Can you afford that for your kids? Can your school board? I could, but I've been lucky enough to do well in my career and I only have the one daughter. There's certainly no way that any county I've ever lived in during my life in West Virginia, Maryland, or North Carolina could afford to give every student from K to 12 an iPad. They're lucky when they can provide any kind of computer seat for each kid.

That's why there have been programs like the so-called $100 laptop: the OLPC (One Laptop per Child). The OLPC project aimed to put first low priced notebooks, the XO-1.5 and now tablets, the OLPC XO Tablet, into the hands of kids who don't go to private schools.

These XO Tablet is powered by a 1GHz Marvell Armada PXA618 processor, and have a mere 512MBs of RAM. It can run a minimized version of Red Hat's Fedora Linux with the simplified Sugar interface on top of that and it can also run Android. Price: $100.

Compared to an iPad, the XO Tablet is junk. But, they're also much more affordable and isn't getting information into the hands of students what a textbooks are all about? Wouldn't it be great if you could use Apple's iBook textbooks on an OLPC? Or, for that matter, any of the other low-priced Android tablets or tablet/e-book readers like the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet or Amazon Kindle Flame? Don't hold your breath.

Apple seems to have no interest in bringing iBooks to Windows PCs, Linux computers, Android tablets or, for that matter, even its own MacBook Air. Low-end Android tablets? Give me a break!

What's that you say? Why can't you just create an ePub version of your iBook textbook and sell it to whomever? Well, first, iBooks Author can create books in iBook format, PDF and text. The iBook format appears to be a variation of the popular and open EPUB format. Closer examination of the format reveals, though, that it appears to be a proprietary fork of EPUB.

On top of that Apple's author end-user license agreement (EULA) seems to forbid you to sell any formatted book created with iBook Author except through Apple. In other words, Apple iBooks are a closed shop for publishers and author as well as for would-be users.

Apple seems to be doing is creating a high-end, locked box for well-off students. If you can afford to get into it, good for you, if you can't pay the price you can't get in. Maybe Amazon can change Apple's mind by successfully competing with them in the textbook market. I doubt that will change Apple's policies though.

It's a pity really. Students need low-priced computers, tablets, and e-books. OLPC does what it can, but it's not enough. In all too many schools, students have to rely upon corporate hand-me-down technology and antique equipment. As Maria De La Vega, superintendent of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood public school district, within an easy drive of Apple's headquarters said to a MoblleBeat reporter, "We don't really have a technology budget. Most of what we've been able to acquire has been through donations and leftovers from offices closing down." That's often the case.

Linux and open source can, and do, help schools get the most from their older hardware, but it's not enough. The digital gap between the haves and have-nots grows wider every year. Just don't look for Apple to help close that gap. That's not their business.

Revised January 23, 2011 to reflect that the iBook format is a proprietary extension of EPUB.

Related Stories: How Apple is sabotaging an open standard for digital books

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

Apple's iBooks Textbooks initiative is a welcome and natural progression

Apple's textbook plan's biggest flaw is that it's tied to the iPad

Apple's mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement

Apple wants to reinvent the textbook

Topics: Tablets, Apple, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Mobility

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102 comments
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  • Um once the text book is created digitally

    Whats stopping it being put on alternatives like others tablets, notebooks, and laptops? Also to afford an Apple tablet with student discount one hardly has to be rich. Middle classed sure but rich no.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

      @James Quinn You genuinely think that the modern middle-class, even assuming it wasn't vanishing at a rapid pace, can afford a $500 iPad for each child, plus the books, plus a home PC (since an iPad doesn't help when you need to write that 20 page report)? They can barely afford mortgages, even with both parents working.

      Add to that the rapidly rising costs of food and fuel, vanishing public transportation options in most areas of the US, and lack of annual wage increases for most industries and you should quickly realise that the *last* thing "middle-class" parents can afford is an iPad for each child.

      What you're thinking of when you say "Middle-class" is a family making six figures - and anyone making six-figures is rich, no matter how much they complain about not being able to afford that third summer home.
      RvLeshrac
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @RvLeshrac

        Define middle class for us please. A Nuclear Family (two parents, two children) with an income of 60,000.00 dollars per year) could afford iPads for both children.

        It all depends on what your priorities are.
        kenosha77a
      • My absolute best income was 37,500 per year

        @RvLeshrac ... I don't even know if that is considered middle class? Now I was single but at that time I had a healthy 401k, all bills current and few, and several thousand in my checking account. I also owned the latest iMac. Now yes I could have easily afforded a couple iPads for the kids but again with Apple's student discount plus what ever discount they give school system and if I had a wife I would assume she'd have an income and we'd benefit tax wise because we'd have in theory a couple tax deductions called kids:). So yeah I think it could be done but my other points still are valid as far as I know you'll be able to put digital text books on any number of devices including Linux and windows.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • middle class?

        The issue is while you have some parents that are well off, you will have others that do not have enough money to send their child to school with enough supplies, a lunch etc. This is the main issue with the upper middle class as they are so disconnected with the realities teachers deal with it's comical.

        Are you willing to have your taxes increase so your school board can afford this? If not you will deal with the reality of some students being enabled and others left out.

        I think the main issue is the lack of lending and sharing of Textbooks. Why should you buy textbooks? A school should be able to have a digital library and kids with a tablet / laptop "check" these out as needed. The school manages the books yearly to keep them current. I'd like to see this model with an open digital standard vs. Apple having a closed sales channel.
        MobileAdmin
      • Sharing and lending... Great concept except.

        @MobileAdmin... Even text book companies want to make money. Other wise I like it seriously. Maybe Google can start up a tablet lending and sharing program itself? Now that would be open.... To failure:)

        As for a lock in. A digit6al book can in theory be saved into any number of formats and or all of them. So "IF" Apple sells for Apple products yeah I get that but nothing is stopping Amazon and or Google for doing the same for Android. Well Google for Android and Amazon can do it for both Android and Windows.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @RvLeshrac We make 64000 dollars a year on a single income-my wife is stay at home. Our family is two adults and two children. I clear about 42000 after taxes, health insurance and mandatory retirement contributions. I spend 8000 a year on my mortgage (130k house with 30k down, not a mansion.) I give 4200 to charity and feel this is non-negotiable. My utilities and internet run about 400 a month. My car insurance is 1200 a year. My property taxes are 1000 a year. So, my non-essential take home is 2000 a month. We spend about 200 a week on food and 100 a week on gasoline. So we're down to about 800 a month. 200 of that I put into a college savings account for the children. 80 of that is cellphone. Basically, when all is said and done, I'm down to about 500 dollars a month of unaccounted for money. Of course, this doesn't include clothing, school field trips, sports registrations, Christmas and birthdays, going out to eat, any entertainment costs, etc. Oh yeah, and saving up to buy automobiles (I only pay cash for low value used cars, so those payments don't come out of the other budget.) To buy two iPads, it is 1/6th of our yearly slush money. That's not something I personally can do even though I'm 'middle class.' I will say that we are in a special situation because my youngest is handicapped and requires special food that raises our food budget and once a month trips to a hospital that is 300 miles away that raises our gas budget, but I think the fact that most people have car payments probably balances that out. Middle class isn't as rich as it used to be.
        senoy
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @senoy

        With so much money spent on whatever junk, you can't spend $500 per kid for a device that will make you spending for textbooks perhaps even less???

        It's all matter of priorities.

        I have no idea how much textbooks cost in the US, but if Apple claims "only $15 per textbook", that the paper versions must be much more expensive. Don't you pay for the textbooks of your kids? With this iPad thing (or whatever it is called), you will still pay for textbooks, only the textbooks will not be printed on paper (saves LOTS of trees and energy!!!) and might even cost less, total.
        danbi
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @RvLeshrac It's difficult to pin down what anyone means by "middle class," anymore. Yes, a family earning at least into the six figures can likely afford the devices. The person who claims $60K is sufficient probably ought to take a closer look. Is that "net" income or before taxes? Mortgage payments or rent alone eat up about half the after-tax nowadays, and then there are the little luxuries like food, medical care, utilities, clothing, car payments, and on and on. Still, compared to the vast majority of human beings around the world, many of whom survive on a few dollars a day, most of us are pretty darn rich. However, let's look at an even more pressing issue in this context: pure greed. Apple has demonstrated a corporate culture that is bent on crushing any competitor or technology that stands in the way of its goal of market domination. I would be curious to know how Apple's philanthropic efforts stack up against those of say, Bill and Melinda Gates. Apple is sitting on cash reserves that boggle the imagination. They could well afford to supply millions of school children with devices. They could price the iPad affordably. Either or both of these options inspire loyalty and gratitude, rather than resentment, and vastly improve market share. Instead of spending untold millions on suing anyone who makes a rectangle with a screen, they could make the world a better place, and make education of our children a priority.
        revlauren
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @kenoshoa77a The median household income in the U.S. was just over $50,000 in 2006, so your figure is above average.
        jgm@...
      • Ever heard of an education discount???

        School districts can go to Apple and get really good discounts for the iPads they need... And perhaps we can get our economy and budget squared enought to afford those discounted iPads... This is a very cool tool with the potential to teach like no other tool has ever taught... And you whine and complain that some will not be able to afford it... Sure.. And some kids in the US are hungry and can't afford clothing... But what does that have to do with education technology innovation?<br><br>Think about this for a moment... This is interactive content that delivers a new/better way to learn. Apple also provided free tools for teachers to be able to costomize content... And Apple has the eco system to deliver quality and selections of worthwhile content... Where else are you going to find anything like it??? No one else has it, they haven't even thought of it until after Apple did it... How much more will a child learn and retain with this type of content and delivery? How much is your childs education worth? All the have-nots of the world currently don't have access to the best education money can buy. And this is the latest cutting edge technology... You expect this to roll out to all kids??? As long as the super rich are taking advantage of every tax break they can, we will not be able to afford our poorest kids the education they deserve. Perhaps you should direct your whining where it deserves to go.
        i8thecat4
    • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

      @James Quinn If you publish an iBook, you can ONLY sell it on Apple devices. It's part of the terms of use.
      Imrhien
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @Imrhien : apple fans don't care about apple being restrictive because apple can do no wrong.
        deaf_e_kate
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @Imrhien

        Correct. So if you want to sell somewhere else, then instead, or in addition (it's your choice by the way) to an iBook, publish also an Android Book, and Amazon Kindle Book, and Microsoft Book, and Adobe Book (remember that Adobe eBook software that was full of DRM???) etc.

        If you want to be too good to others, then by all means invent your own eBook format, make it better than Apple's, write (of course) better software than iBook Author and port it to any past, present and future OS and hardware. People will be grateful and perhaps (but not sure) will not bash you, especially if you decide to do all of this for free.
        danbi
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @ danbi ... its not about free.... it's about restrictive publishing rights all for using some stupid ibook format? It's apple greed at its usual, they always have been anti-user, pro profit and always will be.

        Sad thing is you can make a profit and not screw over the public, apple just have never figured out how to do it.
        Reality Bites
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @Imrhien If you publish through iBA to sell your book then yes it can only be sold through iBooks. There is absolutely nothing preventing you from laying out the book in another format to sell through other channels.
        non-biased
    • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

      @James Quinn

      I think a lot of people here don't get it...
      If you live in a situation where you are struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table then you won't be able to put an iPad in the hands of your child whether you earn $37500 per year or $150,000 per year. Yes it is all about priorities and food and safe housing come first and that is all some people can stretch to even if they are considered in the 'Middle Class' (whatever that is !)

      It is DISHONEST of Apple to corner the market on Textbooks and the government should propose legislation to stop this monopoloistic practice (certainly Microsoft would not be allowed to get away with it so why, again, is Apple).

      Digitized textbooks are a great way to get the information out to everyone let's not make it a way to segeregate society into the 'haves and have nots'.

      Apple is a 'Great American Company' but Apple is for Apple - noone else.
      theviewfromabove
      • As it is and should be for any "for profit business"

        @andyrcampbell ... Let's see Apple provides for FREE an application designed to take full advantage of its products and in return for using this free application on is expected to create text books that use Apple devices? Does that stop the text book industry from using alternative applications to create text books in and for alternatives? I don't think that is a requirement of Apple's nor if it were would I think that to be legal.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

        @James Quinn ...... its not about free.... it's about restrictive publishing rights all for using some stupid ibook format? It's apple greed at its usual, they always have been anti-user, pro profit and always will be.

        Sad thing is you can make a profit and not screw over the public, apple just have never figured out how to do it yet.
        Reality Bites
    • RE: The poor get poorer and the rich get richer with Apple's iPad-based textbooks

      @James Quinn
      Who needs a good education? This columnist, who proclaims that he is doing well in his career, has grammatical errors in almost every paragraph of this article.
      nfordzdn