Monday, August 29, 2011

iPads for schools?

This story is the shape of things to come:
Each first-year pupil at St Kevin's College in Crumlin will pay €150 for the iPad, which will contain all their text books. They will keep the computer for the year and do all their schoolwork on it.
Now, from a professional point of view, I wonder what sort of deal they cut with the publishers - textbook costs are the bread and butter of many publishers, who are loathe to see their unit sales go over to e-formats (which destroy, ultimately, the possibility of making many sales). Academic publishers tend not to mind, since they don't need to sell 60,000 copies to make their costs back.

But this is where it is for our digital natives now, a single slate of technology will contain all of their education - and the question becomes, why not load up all their reading resources all the way through their academic career - they will expect instant access to ebooks at university.

Propriatorial rights are currently holding back the widespread adoption of ebooks. Certainly, there remains a need to pay for quality, but the time will come when e-books sweep away a lot of the existing informational infrastructure. When you have the entire world's knowledge accessible from a slim bag sized machine, anything is possible.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were similar schemes in the offing in the UK. The publishing industry is changing fast, and with a 3G Kindle only costing £150.00 (my mate bought an ebook in the pub as a demonstration) everyone will begin to expect. Likewise, it has reached the point where if you're with anyone with a smartphone and the conversation turns round to 'What Bands was Steve Vai in' - someone can Wikipedia the bugger before you can blink.

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Anonymous Tristan Miller said...

You write that "textbook costs are the bread nad butter of many publishers, who are loathe to see their unit sales go over to e-formats (which destroy, ultimately, the possibility of making many sales)." This is not at all true. Publishers absolutely love e-books because their digital restrictions management capabilities allow them to prevent the books from being transferred or sold, and even to have them self-destruct after a set period. This eliminates the second-hand textbook market and forces class after class of students to buy "new" e-books. Through DRM, publishers can command a much larger and steadier revenue stream than they ever could with printed books.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Tell that to the publishers - all I hear from e-book aggregators is that the textbook publishers still have cold feet. Pearson, the biggest textbook publisher, won't play ball.

The big question is concurrent users, theoretically an infinite number of readers can read an e-book at a given time. This can seriously cut down on multiple copy sales (in the UK, universities will buy multiple copies of textbooks, unlike the states where students are expected to buy them).

So the chief rub is the potential benefits and capacities of the format, coupled with the restrictions publishers have to impose - essentially they are now against the technological tide.

Most institutional ebook access agreement models are perpetual.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Tristan Miller said...

It seems to me, then, that the publishers' problem isn't with e-books per se, but with the licensing agreements they sign with the universities. It's certainly within the realm of technological possibility to implement access controls which prohibit concurrent and perpetual use. Indeed, one or both of these restrictions are the default for most DRM-crippled electronic media.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Ah, but we won't buy anything that doesn't give us perpetual access - the current dominant model is to buy 'credits' so one book can be read 325 times (when you've used up the credits, you need to buy another copy). There are rental models, though.

The big secret of publishing is that printing costs are marginal, it's the commissioning, editing and marketing that generates the cost, the printed book was once just the natural barrier that allowed access to all that.

It is all about how we go about getting an acceptable agreement. Things are stabilising in the market.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Tristan Miller said...

Perhaps things are stabilizing differently in different markets. The Canadian government is currently attempting to introduce legislation requiring digital course material to self-destruct within 30 days of the end of the course. Apparently many of the provisions of this bill were proposed to bring Canada closer in line with US practice.

8:17 AM  

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