This Week's Fish-Wrap №46: iThoughts About iTextbooks This iWeek

It seems fairly often that Steve Jobs Apple brings out something that changes the face of the world – or at least what its face is pointed at – inexorably. They’re infrequently the first to do whatever it is that now has a lower-​​case letter “i” slapped on the front of the name, but they are typically the first ones to get it done the right way. For example: the tablet is finally done right with the iPad, after Microsoft tried to get manufacturers to figure out how to do it for most of the ’90s and ‘the noughties’; personal music players worked fine as cassette machines like the Walkman™, but it took the iPod to get the digital file format taking off; and the smartphone was clunky, awkward, and difficult to use for the acquisition of basic information until the introduction of the iPhone.

Beckman RIIC advert (“New Scientist and Science Journal”, Apr 1st 1971)
Beckman RIIC advert (“New Scientist and Science Journal”, Apr 1st 1971)

Thus, the iBook 2 (not to be confused with the PowerBook, which is an old Apple laptop model) now presents textbooks in a far better, cheaper, and easier distribution model. HOORAY! say I. This is one of the best applications of the eBook format, as it drops the cost of the most expensive part of the production cycle for text-​​books: printing. Most text books have, at the very least, graphs and charts as illustrations. Anything used for science and artistic pursuits have colour illustrations or photographs required to properly explain matters of any complexity, be they medical matters of the body, or painted representations of the body. This need for acceptable colour reproduction – while both less expensive and less complicated than even two decades ago – still requires a hefty increase in costs than if there were nary a graphic included. The fact that a text book typically requires up-​​dating two years after its release only adds to the necessity of developing a way to reduce costs as much as is possible. Thankfully, the eBook is the answer.

No doubt the tales I could tell of the cost of my Geography text books in the mid-​​1980s would be enthusiastically laughed at by today’s students, and I don’t wish to consider what the cost of them are today.  But,  given the charges for typical education at any level are increasingly beggaring those who administer the provision of learning today, at any level, the method of providing texts at a fraction of the cost to the student is welcome indeed.

This is not without some valid considerations, however. Is the so-​​called “walled garden of Apple” too limiting for the freedom-​​loving world of academia? Will university and college lecturers and Deans of study find they are no longer able to regulate themselves or exercise their creativity within the technological constraints placed upon them by DRM and geographic distribution agreements? Will the publishers find increased revenue from their titles, rather than what trickles of cash they get from the photocopying licenses for ‘course packs’ used in a majority of higher learning institutions?

Do publishers even have the balls to make the sea-​​change of their entire business-​​model to this new platform? Are they just in time to make it, or are they merely trying to sort out how to rearrange the deck chairs on a rapidly sinking ship? Do we even care?

Lastly, what of the printed book – whether a textbook or simply a novel – being released with an electronic copy as a bonus? When buying a DVD or Blu-​​Ray disc, one often gets a “Free Digital Copy” for use on one’s smartphone or tablet, so why not extend this to books also?

Would Atomic Fez readers wish to receive an eBook copy of the book they just purchased in paper format? I’ve often seen it as an either/​or situation, mostly because I’ve seen eBooks as mostly a new reader market. Perhaps I’m wrong, though, and you want the option of having increased access to the book, as this means you can start reading on your iPhone the novel you left at home this morning. Let me know! Atomic Fez is here to help you enjoy reading more, as well as helping you enjoy more reading!

  • “Apple Launches K-​​12 iPad Textbooks, New ‘iTunes U’ & Self-​​Publishing Platform”, | CLICK HERE
  • “Pearson Made $3 Billion From Digital Content Last Year”, | CLICK HERE
  • “Apple Move Will Spark Flurry off New Companies, Content in Education Market”, | CLICK HERE
  • “New Stats: 2011 Libraries’ Digital Check-​​Outs Up 133% Over 2010″, | CLICK HERE
  • “Do we want textbooks to live in Apple’s walled garden?”, GigaOM | CLICK HERE
  • Confessions of a Publisher: “We’re in Amazon’s Sights and They’re Going to Kill Us”, | CLICK HERE
  • ECW Press Experiments with Free eBbooks for Print Customers”, Publishers Weekly | CLICK HERE

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

4 thoughts on “This Week's Fish-Wrap №46: iThoughts About iTextbooks This iWeek

  1. This whole eBook thing is a bit misleading. Apple is not offering “electronic textbooks,” they are offering apps. Apps that can’t be ported to your regular eBook reader, like say the evil Kindle. This is a problem. Apple, like Amazon, is attempting to limit people to one, single platform while they enjoy raking in the revenue.

    Let’s do a little math: your new Apple eTextbook at the touted price of $15 times say 5 textbooks for your average school year + an iPad2 at $500 = $575.

    Your average print book is around $100 times 5 textbooks = $500 MINUS the average resale value of, let’s say 40% = $300.

    Let’s say that you can afford to purchase the iPad2, which most middle school/​grade school (depending on where you are) parents cannot for each kid in the class. That iPad will probably have a lifespan of say, 2 years. This is assuming that your kid doesn’t demand that you run out and buy the new, shiny “iPad X” as soon as they come out about every year.

    Now, you’re stuck with books that can only be viewed on one device (or likely your Apple computer) and Apple is happy because you will be using their products for the foreseeable future because you don’t want to lose you current library of “books.”

    The same problem arises with the Amazon Kindle, by the by. When you purchase Kindle-​​formatted books from Amazon, you’re stuck using Amazon’s device (or your computer) to read “your” books. Is this a good idea? Hell no.

    Let’s also not gloss over the fact that Apple says that any books created using their fancy iTextbook authoring tool CAN NOT be sold anywhere else but Apple iTunes. You want to throw together a book for your class and sell it on your website? Too bad! Apple wants its 30% tariff, Baby.

    So it’s a bit of a delusion that Apple is going to “solve” the problem with eTextbooks. It should be obvious: Apple is only out to help Apple.

    I love Apple products, but I am dead set against being forced to view MY content on a device of THEIR choosing. Content needs to be device-​​free before we “solve” anything.

    1. You make a fine point, Herne: the answer to the cost of text books may be eBooks, but anything stuck in a particular company’s control isn’t going to be practical. The matter of Apple only allowing people to sell their creations in the Apple Store (or ‘iTunes’, as it really needs to be changed from) is covered quite well in THIS ARTICLE from this morning.

      I think some of your source values may be wrong about textbook costs, though. Plus, you haven’t remembered to cover the number of books during the entire lifetime of the iPad (which isn’t really the most economical unit one should use, but that requires the consideration above to be reconciled). Let’s say five textbooks for each semester, for a two-​​year programme (and also presuming the life of the iPad is only the two years). I’d say you’re looking at each of those textbooks costing $100 each in printed format (psychology and engineering are insane multiples of that), so that’s $2,000 over the period. If the ‘apps’ are used instead, you’ve got $300 in software on the $600 iPad, thus $1,000 over the same period (presuming $100 in tax for the latter example, but ignoring it for the printed scenario). Even if you account for some of those textbooks to be “course packs” of photocopied material, typically there’s a book to accompany that stack of loose paper as well, so the cheapness of the photocopies is more than offset by the required book, and even the photocopies are a good $50 a batch in many cases.

      The re-​​sale value of text books is something that many text book publishers would dearly love to crush, just as many publishers would dearly love to nuke every single used book store and library in the world, thus making their products only available to those who can afford them. This continues the notion that ‘knowledge is power, and power is money, thus knowledge is money and those who are poor remain ignorant. The Rich Rule All.’ QED

      It’s not the solution, no; but this is the start of one.

  2. Libraries are currently having difficulties with stocking e-​​books. This has something to do with licenses, I understand, but what little I heard didn’t make too much sense so I’ve probably got it wrong. The problem was especially with stocking new branches, but that doesn’t follow, either. I think there was something to do with new publications as well, so perhaps there’s a gap between the time a “real” book comes out and the time the e-​​book format does?
    I’ll probably be one of the “last by whom the new is tried” so I’m not excited yet.

    1. The problem is that eBooks are not what is sold, but rather a licence to distribute the eBook is sold, much like a radio station is licensed to play music or a TV station is licensed to broadcast a movie. The ‘Big 6′ publishers are increasingly refusing to sell libraries licenses for eBook editions of their new titles, because they want to sell as many eBook editions as they can to people who want to read said eBook editions. This is part of the above mentioned perception of “libraries are competition” foolishness.

      Thus, ‘stocking a new library’ with eBooks requires purchasing new licenses, but the publishers will not grant them. Likewise the titles are made available for libraries distribute by the company “OverDrive”, which controls what they bother to carry (FULL DISCLOSURE: Atomic Fez has no eBooks available through OverDrive and mentioning that is a good way to make the publisher grumpy and start ranting). Thus, as the libraries are tied to OverDrive’s catalogue, and the publishers can directly control what OverDrive is supplied, the ‘Big 6′ get to control what the libraries have in the way of eBooks in a way that they cannot control with paper books, because if the library wants ten copies of the hardback that HarperCollins won’t sell them, they just pop down the corner and shop at Bollum’s Books.

      See earlier comment about “Knowledge is Money”.

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