The Macalope Daily: Farewell to the Half-Blood Prince

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Apple didn’t so much “digitally destroy” the textbook publishing industry on Thursday as it offered it a ride to the future in its aluminum time machine.

The only question is how much gas money Apple’s going to wring out of the publishing industry on the way.

You can bet the kid’s college money (all $3.85 of it!) that there’s a spreadsheet at Pearson and the other publishers that says this’ll work out well for them. Because you just know Marjorie Scardino wants to be able to keep using that posh-looking conference room she has there (watch the video).

And people say there’s no money to be had in education!

What there isn’t, right now, is a spreadsheet that shows how well this is going to work out for schools and students. Apple floated the $15-per-book price tag for high school textbooks, but ask yourself why the publishers would be lining up to help reduce the price of their products so much. It’s not out of the kindness of their hearts, that’s for sure.

One of the big questions on everyone’s mind during the presentation was “How will students be able to afford all these iPads?” (It was second only to “What kind of executive goes by ‘Eddy’?”)

The day before the event, the Macalope was chatting with a community college math professor who said the textbook his students needed to buy was almost $300. Two books like that and there’s your iPad. The Macalope also wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a cheaper iPad this year.

Now, you can rent these books for a fraction of the list price. And the rental companies are probably one of the things the publishers have in their sights with this initiative.

Apple, meanwhile, is trying to squeeze itself in as the new middleman once again. While it’s working with the publishers, it’s also opening up the market to anyone.

Assuming these budding shapers of young minds can get past the language of the license agreement for iBooks Author. As Dan Wineman notes, the license specifies you can only sell the book you create in iBooks Author through Apple’s store. Naturally, this has sent the hyperbole machine into overdrive:

Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement

From an application they’re giving away and is not the only way to get content on an iPad. Oookay.

Watts Martin responds to Wineman by pointing out that iBook Author only outputs interactive content to Apple’s .ibooks format anyway. PDF output isn’t interactive and has “iBooks Author” stamped at the bottom.

What the company has done is made a free tool for making content for their store. So the clause really has little practical effect. The Macalope agrees it should be removed, but “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil”? Have words suddenly lost all their meaning?

While yesterday’s announcements were certainly very nice and possibly transformative for the textbook business and are likely to make Apple a boatload of money, the Macalope’s skeptical about their ability to transform education. As a former teacher of 10 years told the Macalope, “It’s not hard to market a panacea in academia these days.”

This will be good for Apple and it has some nice side benefits for students and teachers, but if you’re looking for a solution to the ills of education, keep looking.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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