Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks

23 Jan

Apple held it’s much hyped education event on January 19 in NYC. “Digital destruction of textbooks” and “Garageband for ebooks” were two of the many rumors floating around in the tech blogosphere. Apple announced a simple and easy-to-use tool for ebook creation and a simple distribution system through its iBooks store. The initial products are available only for the school market. Similar to Apple’s other integrated product offerings, will this e-textbook model succeed?

The Good

  • The price is the best part – only $15 for a textbook compared to the more common $75
  • Interactive (and possibly engaging) content
  • Easy-t0-use device (iPad) with a touchscreen that kids love
  • Easy to create an ebook using the iBooks Author and distribute an ebook
  • Ultra-portable, kids don’t have to carry heavy textbooks
  • Tens or even hundreds of books on one device
  • Internet connected for easy access to the Web

The Bad

  • Public schools buy books in volume and distribute them to the students. The average cost of a book is $75 that they use for about five years. A $15 ebook will be tied to individual student accounts, which means every year, the school has to pay $15 per ebook. The total cost in five years: $75. And an additional $500 for each iPad. Where are the savings? Our public school systems are in disarray. The budgets are cut every year, teachers and staff are laid off, the number of students per teacher increases. Do the schools have enough money for an upfront investment in iPads for every student?
  • Book publishers have been developing interactive ebooks for a few years now. Those ebooks can be used on any computer using a Web browser and are not tied to a single device from a single company. Making the same content available on an iPad instead of a laptop is not going to improve learning.
  • An iPad might increase engagement in the beginning, but once the novelty wears off, the kids will be more interested in playing Angry Birds. Pedagogy is more important than the device and this initiative doesn’t enhance the pedagogical value of the books.
  • The books can easily be created by anyone and distributed through the iBooks store. But schools don’t use books written by anyone. They want books from reputed authors and publishers. It will be a low-margin, high-volume game, and hyper-competitive as well. Creating an interactive ebook means investing more on developing multimedia content. High cost of creation and low margins. Will the publishers come along?
  • Nothing is more distracting than an internet connected device, which opens a portal to all kinds of information. Will the kids read the books or surf the Internet, play games, or visit Facebook? Learning is more influenced by people’s motivation than anything else. And the iPad cannot do anything to increase the kids’ motivation to learn. Today’s kids have a thousand other things to do than study, as indicated by the school and college dropout rates and falling behind of the US on PISA tests. The No Child Left Behind Act has made the situation worse.
  • The downloadable ebooks will take up about 1 GB each. Which means it can store only a limited number of books. Buying the higher-capacity iPads would cost even more. If the books are not downloaded, they will not always be available, given the state of our broadband connections.

The Ugly

  • Apple’s End User License Agreement (EULA) for iBooks states that the authors are free to provide the books on their Web site if its free. However, any ebook created with iBooks Author software that the author wants to sell can be sold only through the iBooks store. And Apple will set  the price and take a cut from the sale. The author works hard but apple limits the market. Apple is not working to improve education. The only things it wants to do is sell more iPads.
  • The books must be approved by Apple. This means any book can (and often will) be rejected by Apple for arbitrary and unexplained reasons. What if Apple doesn’t like the content in a history book? It will have the power to alter history. I wonder if schools will allow Apple to set their curriculum.
  • If the schools don’t have money to buy iPads for their students, can they make it mandatory for the parents to buy one for their kids? This would immediately lead to a class-action lawsuit against the school. Many people can’t afford an iPad, or in my and several other cases, will not be willing to buy one. How do you create equality in the classroom?
  • It’s morally irresponsible. A great book should not be the sole preserve of rich school districts. It might create a 1%-99% situation and increase inequality instead of bridging it.
  • A closed system will stifle innovation. An ebook that’s available to everyone on any device opens up a huge market that further incentivizes innovation.
  • One drop and the iPad is gone. Who replaces the iPad? The school or the parents?

Related Readings
iPad a solid education tool, study reports
Why the iPad Won’t Transform Education — Yet
The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA
iPad Textbooks: Reality less revolutionary than hardware
Apple Textbook Controversy Isn’t About Books—It’s About Teaching


2 Responses to “Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks”


  1. Apple Just Incentivized Every College Kid To Get An iPad. As For High Schoolers… « - January 24, 2012

    […] Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks (kumardeepak.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Who’s Going to Buy Apple’s New eTextbooks? | doug woods - January 24, 2012

    […] Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks (kumardeepak.wordpress.com) […]

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