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

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.

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TOPICS: Apple, Amazon
125

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 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.

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Talkback

125 comments
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  • Wow, great idea, insight...

    Very insightful, Jason. Open system, the more affordable Fire comes into its own, lending library idea -- great stuff!

    Gotta love competition.
    mcwong1
    • RE: Amazon:

      @mcwong1 <br>Except that Amazon's Kindle platform is even more closed and restrictive in other ways.<br><br>Jason, you say Amazon is the lesser of two evils, but what about their far more restrictive hardware?<br><br>Apple has no problems allowing rivals to provide their apps on the iOS platform. Does Amazon allowed competing ebook stores on the Kindles? No, you're locked into buying your content from Amazon. How else can they sustain their loss-leader hardware model?<br><br>In contrast Apple allows Barns & Noble, Amazon and any other ebook retailer or store to exist on the iOS platform. Likewise, Apple has no problems allowing rival music stores, video and all sorts of other content.<br><br>Also, you talk about how wonderfully cheap Amazon hardware is, but you neglect to mention how much less capable the various Kindles are as general purpose tablets. Even the Kindle Fire is lacking in so many areas:<br><br>No Audio in or audio recording so no VOIP or capturing lecture audio or audio for projects. Not to mention Android's abysmal lack of support for low latency audio.<br><br>No front or back cameras so no video Skype, photo documentation, HD video capture or editing.<br><br>No Bluetooth so no external wireless keyboard for long form text entry or wireless audio systems or headsets or hands free car kits.<br><br>No 3-way gyroscope or digital compass or GPS, so no accurate motion sensing game or app control or augmented reality or navigation apps.<br><br>No 3G so no ubiquitous Internet connectivity option.<br><br>And don't even get me started on the limitations of the cheaper black and white Kindles.<br><br>You bemoan the expense of Apple's iPad but neglect the fact that students would have to buy a Kindle PLUS another tablet or laptop to get anything like the same capabilities of the "expensive" iPad.<br><br>Then of course there is the enormous gulf in app availability. Android and even more so the Amazon App Store are wastelands in terms of other educational apps or apps in other categories. And then there is the 45% of Android apps that are spamware or the 700+ malware apps or the legions of copyright infringing apps. Do you really want to load all of that on poor old overloaded educational IT support areas?<br><br>No, Amazon might like to think it is a viable alternative to the iPad and iBooks in Education, but boy what a lot of extra baggage and limitations they bring to the table!
      Melciz
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz

        "Jason, you say Amazon is the lesser of two evils, but what about their far more restrictive hardware?"

        Nope, Jason just love to kick Apple in the nuts if he gets a chance.
        jgpmolloy
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz Are you kidding me?

        Google Sky? Show me the Apple Equivalent! Astronomy Anyone?

        Google Earth? Again where is Apple's Equivalent? Geography Anyone?

        Google Body? Nope, nothing really like that on Apple either! Anatomy Anyone?

        Periodic Tables? Yep, on both! Chemistry Anyone?

        C/C++/Objective C Programming and Compiler? Android Yes! iOS Nope!

        Looking through the Android Market I also find, Spelling, Math, Language, Music and Science Apps!

        I guess when you say there are No Educational Apps available on Android, you mean??? I have no idea what you mean, as you surely didn't check this before posting!

        Oh and you can get the Kindle Reader as well and that has Text Books that you can Buy from within the reader!

        Bottom Line, you have no clue what you're saying!

        Also, the Google Apps are best of Breed!
        slickjim
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Peter Perry

        I am very sure google loves you first for being a tool to sell ads and secondly to sell your personal info to advertisers and then your blind loyalty.

        Good for you.
        AdanC
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Peter Perry,
        Google Earth is on iOS as well and for every Google app that isn't there are dozens and dozens of equivalents on iOS. Why do you seem to think Apple has to author them?

        There is no way you can say there are more educational apps for Android, it just isn't so, particularly for tablet apps where Android, is still miles and miles behind iOS.

        Yes and the Kindle reader is available for iOS as well as I said.

        So any comments about the closed aspects of Amazon's Kindle ecosystem or the fact that Kindle-owning students will need to also buy another more capable tablet or laptop to do much more than just read ebooks?
        Melciz
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz
        Spoken like a true Apple fanboy. Good job.
        kirovs@...
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Kirovs
        So do you have any facts to bring to this discussion or are you just going to sling the same tired old insults?
        Melciz
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz

        Um, you can read a book from Amazon on ANY platform, once you have argued that point, come back please.
        Bozzer
      • RE: Amazon:

        @bozzer
        You still don't understand do you.

        My point is that Amazon's *hardware* is locked down more and is far more limited than Apple's.

        As I say, Amazon does not let other book or media stores run on the Kindle hardware platform, whereas Apple allows a plethora of stores and services from thousand of other providers.

        Which would you rather students have?

        1. A cheap tablet that can only have ebooks and textbooks purchased from Amazon, has a tiny number of educational apps, virtually no tablet-optimised apps, zero Google apps and which would require the student to also purchase a laptop or other more capable tablet to do the wide range of tasks the iPad is capable of.

        2. A slightly more expensive tablet that has hundreds of ebook stores, textbook sources, media stores, hundreds of thousands of educational apps and tens of thousands of tablet-optimised apps and far more capable hardware that actually browses the web at a useable speed, has best in class word processing nd DTP apps, spreadsheets, presentation apps, works with external Bluetooth keyboards, can do audio in, augmented reality etc etc.

        As you can see the fact that iBooks only work on the iPad doesn't matter as you could just as easily buy textbooks or media from any other store or supplier and still run it all on that same piece of hardware.

        This is far less limiting than getting Amazon Kindle hardware which locks students into a single source for content which is Amazon's business model.
        Melciz
      • Today's News: Over 350,000 iBooks downloaded in 3 days

        @Melciz
        The market has spoken.
        oh...and you're right about Amazon.
        frogspaw
      • Amazon Kindle app runs on bookoos of different platforms!

        @Melciz
        Do iOS apps run on Android tablets?
        :-(
        kd5auq
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz

        "My point is that Amazon's *hardware* is locked down more and is far more limited than Apple's."

        My Kindle Fire has this nice little toggle switch in the settings to allow the user to side-load software. Without hacking the Kindle Fire in anyway I was able to install Barnes and Noble's Nook for Android, Opera, and Firefox with ease. Just download the file, tap it, and select install.

        They may want to have some control over their app store but Amazon is NOT nearly as locked down as Apple. Let me know when Apple allows side-loading apps without hacking their devices.
        dragosani
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz <br><br>You do know that you can run the Kindle app on any platform you like? I have it on my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro and my Windows 7 portable. How is this locking out platform flexibility? Apple does'nt allow you to run their software on other platforms.

        How is a $500 iPad going to help shrink the digital divide that is already widening in this country? Apple will never dilute their brand with lower priced iPads. Also; did you read the article on how Apple is licensing the free iBook software? Anything you create with their software can never be sold anywhere else. Talk about vendor lock-in.

        I'm not an Apple basher, I own many of their products; including an iPad, iPhone and a MacBook pro. But that doesn't mean I don't see their business practices for what they are. Lock in for authors and no other platform for readers.

        J
        jammer6463
      • RE: Amazon:

        @dragosani,
        It is true that you can turn off the security restriction on side-loading on the Kindle, but the question is how many Educational IT groups would be keen on opening up their tablets to all the malware abounding on the Android platform let alone the support headache of anything and everything being installed by students?

        Most Education IT teams I know of have breathed a sigh of relief over the parental controls and curated apps of the iOS platform so I think the last thing they'd want to do is turn off security settings on a platform that is already the number 1 mobile malware target in the world. (last quarter 100% of all new mobile malware discovered targeted Android)
        Melciz
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Melciz <br><br>"It is true that you can turn off the security restriction on side-loading on the Kindle, but the question is how many Educational IT groups would be keen on opening up their tablets to all the malware abounding on the Android platform let alone the support headache of anything and everything being installed by students?<br><br>Most Education IT teams I know of have breathed a sigh of relief over the parental controls and curated apps of the iOS platform so I think the last thing they'd want to do is turn off security settings on a platform that is already the number 1 mobile malware target in the world. (last quarter 100% of all new mobile malware discovered targeted Android) "<br><br>You start with a Hasty Generalization and then move right into a Irrelevant Conclusion.<br><br>Those that you have met are not representative of all IT teams. Nice try at diverting the readers attention with the malware scare.<br><br>{EDIT}<br><br>I was going to just ignore the Complex Question Fallacy but thought I would tell you about our school system and the iPad 2 that my child received this school year from the school system.<br><br>The iPad has a sticker with "Property of [School District Name], [School District address], [School District phone number]. Yes, it is a public school district. The device was issued without being associated to an account. We had to provide our own Apple account. I created a new one just for this device and used a bank issued virtual credit card number with a $1.00 limit (smallest limit possible). I setup the iPad upgraded the iOS from 4.x to 5. The school district then provided us with an iTunes card to purchase the software the school wanted for the student to use. I doubt that I have ever seen such an IT hands-off approach to any other device (maybe Windows 95/98 machines). We did not receive any documentation for the device nor any instructions on how to secure (Parental Controls) the device. Honestly, I didn't need any documentation since I am familiar with iOS. I would imagine that other parents might need some documentation.
        dragosani
      • I can read a Kindle book anywhere

        @Melciz I can read my Kindle book anywhere, on my PC, on my iPad, my Mac, my Kindle device (such as a fire), anywhere. The teacher can project part of the book on the screen at school through her PC that she read on her iPad last night without caring what hardware or OS is at school.

        9 year olds don't need a gyroscope, camera, 3G or Bluetooth, so why pay for them to have them? Seriously, I use my iPad for Netflix and web browsing, I don't even need any of that stuff.
        A Gray
      • RE: Amazon:

        @A Gray

        As I read Melciz's comments, he claimed that you can't do much with the Amazon hardware. One particularly ANNOYING thing is you can't read ePub or other format books on the Kindle (either 'software' or 'hardware' Kindle).
        Why would have to be locked to the not very convenient AZW format?

        By the way, my platform of choice is FreeBSD and there is no Kindle application there. Luckily, most of my books are in FB2/ePub anyway so I can read them in that format everywhere (including the iPad), but not on my Amazon Kindle.

        Also, you will be surprised what kids can use gyroscope, camera, 3G or Bluetooth for... just give the thing in their little hands. Most important of all -- they will learn a lot in the process.
        danbi
      • RE: Amazon:

        @jammer6463<br>"Apple will never dilute their brand with lower priced iPads"<br><br>Actually, Apple already has released a lower-priced iPad. <br><br>It has front and back cameras capable of video calling and recording HD video @ 30fps, has a 3-axis gyroscope for app control, a microphone, Bluetooth for external keyboard, audio systems, headsets and other accessories, can connect to a big VGA screen or projector via cable or wirelessly using AirPlay all of which are missing from the Kindle.<br><br>It is priced the same as the Kindle, sells between 6-10 million units per quarter (4-10x as many as the 1-2 million Kindle Fires sold last quarter) and makes a good profit for Apple, not the loss Amazon incurs.<br><br>Oh, and it also runs almost all 500,000 games, ebooks, media and apps in the iOS App store.<br><br>It is also more portable than any Kindle.<br><br>It's called the iPod touch.
        Melciz
      • RE: Amazon:

        @Dragosani, <br>I work in a university IT support group and trust me, one reason we ourselves can be so hands-off with the iPad is because it's such a secure platform even without enabling parental controls. It and the iPhone have proved to be by far the easiest to support platforms of all those we support on campus. <br><br>Also, why did you have to get a $1 credit card for setting up your child's iTunes account when you can set up iTunes accounts without using a credit card at all?
        Melciz