iBooks 2, iBooks Author Attractive But Frightening Solution to Educational Publishing

The big, transformational announcement for educational publishing is out from Apple and the message is clear – Apple wants to monopolize the educational publishing market. But it is going to fail unless Apple dramatically changes course, perhaps later to be eaten by the Android market, and here is why.
Start with the cost of an iPad for content delivery. Even with volume discount sales (and Apple is reasonably aggressive in its direct volume sales for discounting), the platform is a $600 device. That’s a price that is on the edge of very expensive for university students, and absurdly expensive for supplying tablets to every K-12 student, even with volume discounting. Even at a $200 price point (Kindle Fire pricing), its a stretch for the K-12 market, and that is before you even consider the maintenance and replacement costs this foists onto school districts. It does have a modest chance for success in the university setting where one could argue the cost of the device + radically cheaper per student textbook costs over a four year period.

iBooks Author is some sort of chimera. Its a wonderful looking publishing tool, until you actually get to the publishing end. First, you absolutely will need a reasonably modern Mac to run this. On the publishing end, either you go the route of using an aggregator publisher (who will take their % on top of Apple’s 30%) or you’ll be spending on the likes of getting your own ISBN number for your book. Between the Mac and the publishing, you’ll also need a testing device – add in your iPad cost there.

Either route you go, even if using an aggregator, your ultimate publisher still remains Apple. How easy will Apple make it to take your same iBook Author files (which presumably uses the ePUB 3 format) and repurpose them for free or for delivery on other devices? That’s the real question here, and it makes all the difference. Sure, Apple has no interest in supporting an alien platform. However isn’t being locking into a closed garden environment like the iPad contrary to the fair use mentality you find in the education market? Also, doesn’t this deprive universities of additional revenues that are generated through university bookstores?

I can see the big publishers supporting this in a limited way. They want to be as close to the most popular trends in publishing for fear of being seen as a dinosaur. Yet these same big publishers must realize that, once their complete catalogs get published as iBooks, Apple suddenly owns their channel, and converting that into a complete publishing solution that removes those big publishers from the process is the next step. Most likely, they see this as an opportunity. Let Apple define a methodology and delivery mechanism and then duplicate it using a less expensive platform – namely, ePUB 3 documents through Android devices.

Really neat business plan, Apple. Now produce a $200 tablet and open up the garden.

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