Apple e-textbook tools to jack up education and hardware costs ultimately?
January 19, 2012 | 3:42 pm
While the Digital Public Library of America has been fixated on arcane library-and-museum concerns, Apple is unveiling an e-format that might lock in millions of teachers and students in the U.S. and elsewhere
Very possibly the new multimedia book product may ultimately jack up costs in K-12 and elsewhere.
The new format will let students rotate and explore 3D objects, among other features. That’s good. But via hardware-related exclusives, Apple for now is locking up the new related to the hilt, playing up the ease of authoring for the format.
Probable result? Higher hardware prices for schools, students, businesses and consumers than otherwise, or at least slower decreases in costs. And in the contract agreement for the book-creation software, what about this line spotted by Bill McCoy of the International Digital Publishing Forum, the e-book standards-setting group? “If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a ‘Work’), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore).” The good news is that the Apple authoring tool can do ePub. But will that apply to the most advanced features? And has Apple “bastardized” the ePub format? At least one MobileRead reader gave the authoring tool a test spin and thinks so.
Granted, the DPLA already has a lot on its plate. Still, the Apple approach, if it isn’t using ePub in a standard way, is the opposite of the library ecosystem approach I’ve advocated here and here. I wish the DPLA would pay more attention to basics and form alliances accordingly even if it can’t take immediate action here.
Reporting on the new format, Wired says: “Meanwhile, iBooks Author is the trojan horse. There really aren’t many easy-to-use e-book authoring apps, even for plain-text books for Kindle or Nook. And none of easy-to-use applications have been free.
“Now both individual authors and trade and textbook presses can be drawn into a development and publishing ecosystem that begins and ends with Apple. Amazon may offer more eyeballs, but Apple offers an easier workflow. And the multimedia enhancements baked into the new iBooks will tempt everyone creating an e-book to add bits that will be specific to Apple’s platform—creating accidental exclusives.
Um, absolutely accidental? Hardly! I salute Apple’s apparent technical accomplishments but hate the idea of e-book formats becoming even more balkanized. And notice the phrase “easier workflow”? Ease and convenience were among the themes of my ecosystem writings. Apple will offer it for multimedia books. Free nonproprietary alternatives may not go is far. The end result will be more lock-in capabilities for one particular company—meaning very possibly prices of related products, even if Apple’s system apparently will work for free content.
If there’s a technical hook that can jack up profits, you can bet a vendor will use it, be there a DRM angle or another one. Wait. Sure enough, about the iBooks 2 reading app, Wired says: “Disappointingly there’s no move to offer a desktop client for Mac or Windows.” If not? So much for the altruism factor. About the authoring tool, iBooks Author, the word is that so far it’s for the Mac only. No other desktop. The education market is a leading one for Apple.
Please, DPLA, can’t you pay more attention to mundane things like e-book formats and coordinate your act better with the IDPF, the e-book standards group? Let’s turn the nation’s computer sci departments into—in part—R&D labs for nonproprietary standards and authoring and reading apps. Significantly, the DPLA for new is mostly a creature of academia. Here’s a chance to use that fact for the good.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many nontextbook books use the tainted proprietary format and accompanying DRM. This on top of the formats (plural!) at Amazon.com. Ouch.
Related: Just spotted, via Peter Brantley’s e-publishing list: Joe Esposito’s essay, reaching some of the conclusions I do. This is a platform war. And consumers will pay—in inconvenience if nothing else—the accompanying costs. Also see views of Vook, an Apple software competitor.