Regardless of your opinion of Apple’s textbook announcement, plenty of good can come when the world’s second largest (or perhaps largest) for-profit company by market capitalization turns its attention to this tiny market. For starters, it generated a lively discussion in the College Open Textbooks community, which you are welcome to join. With Steve Jobs gone, we do not know if he would have called this announcement “insanely great,” the phrase he used with many other Apple products, and I will withhold judgment myself until I learn more. But with the extraordinary potential for technology to accelerate the adoption of Open Educational Resources, I am ready to declare this an insanely great week.
I hope to write about other aspects of the announcement later, but for now I would like to turn to a critical topic: Apple’s commercial and licensing terms. The following is my understanding; if you think I am wrong on anything, I encourage you to comment.
A number of comments in the announcement discussion pointed out that what you produce with iBook Author cannot be used on non-Apple devices. This is definitely a concern, although in fairness nothing prevents you from using other means to create other versions of your textbook for use on any device (including Apple devices).
Apple is a master at negotiating with content providers, and they did not disappoint. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson joined the announcement, saying they “will deliver educational titles on the iBookstore with most priced at $14.99 or less.” For those like me who have paid up to $200 for a single textbook, this is electrifying. But watch out for the fine print; the publishers intend this to be a per-student charge. At one student per year for, say, five years, a typical lifespan of a physical textbook, that is a cost of $75. Viewed this way, you are not saving much. But for someone buying a new textbook, it is a big drop. And unlike the used textbook market, you are getting the latest version.
Apple keeps 30% of the price, which bothers some people, although I frankly doubt traditional publishers would offer more attractive terms. The main way Apple aspires to make money, in my opinion, is on iPads, iPhones and the like.
From an Open Educational Resources perspective, here is the most important part. Apple iBook Author is free, and you can set whatever price you want for the textbook you produce. If you set a price of zero, students do not pay anything, the author does not pay anything, and, outside of the sale of devices, Apple does not get paid. I cannot argue with that.
I am convinced there is more to come, from Apple, its competitors and other players. There has been a lot of encouraging things happening in Open Educational Resources, and it is about to get a lot more exciting!