iBooks2: Disruptive Innovation or Power Play?

(edited with a few mentions and updates on Jan 30, 2012)

There’s definitely been a lot of talk about the recent iBooks2 kick-off (and iBook Author, and iTunesU…) and I wanted to add my own take on things, particularly in light of a recent Twitter exchange.

Some of my most respected PLN folks are clearly sitting on either end of the debate on this latest offering from Apple, and I did a bit of soul searching to thing about what it really meant and where some of the issues may lie.

Q: Is it really the re-invention of the paper textbook?

A: From this side of the fridge door, I’m not yet convinced. e-Books, for want of a better phrase have been out for a while now, and I haven’t seen what I consider to be marked changes in what you can do with them. Sure, I can bookmark and highlight and note and all that, but I could do that in analog(ue) format, so what’s the fundamental change besides form factor?

As Dan Pontefract rightly pointed out (concurrently and previously unknown to me), there’s no immediate “social” aspect to these things. My ideal e-textbook (textapp?) would allow for comments that could include links, but could also let me share/post these to a LMS (sorry, Dan) or to social technologies of choice. Imagine being able to see how other people far away interpret a(ny) book and talk about what you see or ‘hear’? Imagine being able to export your comments to a blog for a report or analysis or precis? Imagine being able to search through meta-tags for themes or snippets of content instead of just a flat text search? How would all those things change the book experience?

Q: What about Authoring?

A: At first blush this really does seem to be a good leap forward by putting some solid authoring tools in the hands of those who want to get books published. On one hand, you could see independent authors make a push similar to what lulu.com has done with vanity publishing (and distribution), but it also seems to give the giant publishing houses tools to get their products to market faster. As Kevin Thorn rightly pointed out, the tool still gives you the ability to create nothing more sophisticated than PPT if the author chooses to do so. While the tool itself may/should not be to blame for this, it does raise the point about what we’re doing on the design end. However, I still think there’s an onus on the tool developers to start thinking about how we can influence stronger output (of course, that does raise the question about “whose good ideas – read: “gospel” – guide that design?”)

Q: What about publishing & distribution?

A: Here’s where I got my real shock. According to Cult of Mac, the EULA for says (basically) if you want to charge for your iAuthor-ed iText(iBook?) then you must distribute through Apple. We’ll save the whole “Apple reserves the right to include/exclude any iBook at its sole discretion” thing for another day, but get this: Apple gets a share (30%?!!) of the price. Free distribution could be available elsewhere.


30%? Talk about the cash cow enjoying all the clover (provided by others) in your walled garden.

I see this as a massively missed opportunity for Apple. According to his biographer, Steve Jobs wanted to really shake up the whole textbook world and have an impact on education (I’m seriously paraphrasing here, btw). Well, he did – posthumously – but in a way that just makes Apple look, well, greedy and exclusive.

Q: So is there any good to come from this whole thing?

A: I think so, but perhaps not in the way that Apple intended. I think we will see competing interests from the Android community where better file sizes (see this post on the size issue from my Twitter colleague @CraigCCRNCEN), easier distribution, and higher fidelity/interactivity outputs will be possible.

I’m reminded of a blog post I saw from the keepers of Podiobooks.com where they were trying to collaborate with Audible, among others, and had a lot of trouble explaining the “make money by giving things away” concept. It’s not like Apple is facing the same fiscal and marketing challenges that RIM is facing. Apple had a great opportunity to make a really philanthropic effort for education. Looks like someone else will take that on.


Posted on January 29, 2012, in Apple, Apps, blog, commentary, Innovation, opinion, questions, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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