April 2012 Archives

Apple Announces Efforts to 'Reinvent' Textbooks

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In a rather odd Press Conference in January, Apple brought in the international media to the Guggenheim Museum in New York to announce that they were going to 'reinvent textbooks.' Although an interesting thought, the actual content seemed to me to be rather naive, the textbook industry - and especially the process of textbook adoption at the K-12 level particularly - is very complex and often very political....think of all the ongoing problems with evolution versus creationism? Also the announcement seems premature since there was little to announce - other than Apple would love everyone to get an iPad (and imagine how long these would last in K-12 settings!), though all school systems are cash-strapped today and government data shows that one in five children live in poverty in the U.S. Apple has a long way to go to prove their concept here.

I was able to talk with some very smart people about all of this for a news blog for Information Today's NewsBreaks. Outsell's Kate Worlock was one: "I think that the announcement does more to reinvent business models and practices than it does to reinvent textbooks. The new iBook 2 textbooks, while impressive, aren't terribly different to something you'd see from Inkling or in Nature Education's new Principles of Biology. Of course, iBooks 2 focuses more on K-12, so it's new for that market, but not revolutionary."

What do you think? Am I wrong or missing something here?

Amazon has made its metadata - information on a book's title, author, publisher, etc. - available to others - but all most agree to Amazon's terms.

Until recently, Goodreads relied on Amazon book information for basic metadata on titles. This arrangement allowed Goodreads access to cover art on books as well. However, Goodreads decided that Amazon's restrictive API agreements--not allowing for use of Amazon data on mobile apps and the inability of linking to competing bookstores--made the continuing relationship untenable. Goodreads noted to the PaidContent blog that its "goal is to be an open place for all readers to discover and buy books from all retailers, both online and offline." Amazon's API was actually developed for affiliate marketers in order to allow them to feature books on their websites, driving referral sales to Amazon--and Amazon alone. Restrictions that might work for other booksellers weren't working for this social book networking site.

As we move to more social forms of book recommendation and review systems, these issues of access will continue. In Goodreads case, they have switched to Ingram for data.

Goodreads noted to the PaidContent blog that its "goal is to be an open place for all readers to discover and buy books from all retailers, both online and offline." Amazon's API was actually developed for affiliate marketers in order to allow them to feature books on their websites, driving referral sales to Amazon--and Amazon alone. Restrictions that might work for other booksellers weren't working for this social book networking site.

For more about this, see my news blog posting at Information Today.

Your thoughts?

To kick off Digital Learning Day on Feb. 1, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Education jointly held a Town Hall in Washington, which issued an election year "challenge to states and companies to ensure every K-12 student has a digital textbook within five years."

Quite an ambitious goal! However, ebook technology is evolving and stabilizing today and the pricing of textbooks (from K-12 through college) has become a major issue.

I was asked to write about this for a blog posting for Information Today. You may want to give it a read.

Many issues remain unsettled today, but the efforts to experiment and test ideas and technologies are a positive indicator of interest and innovation. Student acceptance of etextbooks is still a question, with some scattered surveys finding that students still prefer the current print-based systems.

Ebooks accounted for only 2.8% of the estimated $8 million textbook market in the U.S. in 2010, so the products are still at a very early stage of development - but clearly, there are efforts to accelerate this quickly in the coming years.

Amazon is making serious moves to consolidate its position in North America and other English-language markets - and even moving strategically into Spanish-, Italian- and French-speaking areas of the world.

In the U.S. they have been working to mould the book distribution system to fit its goals for a streamlined, cost-containment model. In March they worked to freeze out IPG - an important publishing support network for smaller presses - while adding on alternative independent publishing groups. I wrote about it in a NewsBreak for Information Today.

Today, there is no company that approaches the position or power of Amazon in the evolving 21st century publishing arena. For better or worse, Amazon is a power to behold - and watch carefully!

Amazon is a company that has done most things right to build its power, reputation and customer loyalty.

Ebook Tsunami--From Antitrust to Burgeoning Sales

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After over a year of investigation, Wednesday (April 11th), the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in federal court against Apple and five of the largest, most important publishers on our planet. I wrote a news blog item about the filing - and other recent ebook news - for Information Today's NewsBreaks. It's worth a read - even more interesting to read is the lawsuit itself, which - step-by-step - presents the government's case of how it all happened. In Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, he talks about the discussions and comments that Jobs himself had made about this. The government's case, however, outlines this in detail. The inner machinations of publishers paint them as fearful and feeling powerless against the advancing technology of the 21st century as well as of the increasing power of Amazon. You might want to give the news post a read.

Your thoughts?