We are well aware now what the big Apple announcement for January was: their new iBooks Author program. It is a program that allows for easy creation of books, most notably textbooks, for free. iBooks might have failed to kill the Kindle platform, even given the whole Agency Model collusion with publishers (the legality of which we’ll have to wait and see about), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up. After some experimentation with the new program I find myself conflicted. I wanted it to be mediocre, but it’s not. And therein lies the problem.
You see, there is a bit of a problem with the program’s EULA. It won’t be a deal breaker for just anybody, but there is definitely important information to be aware of. By using the iBooks Author program, you are agreeing that not only will anything you sell be available in Apple’s eBook store but also will never never be sold for the Kindle, Nook, or any other non-Apple device.
Before going into the subtleties of the wording, and there are a few arguments with varying degrees of merit that have been made toward the harmlessness of this clause, consider that this can definitely be read as a response to the recent Amazon effort to gain author exclusivity. The only difference is that Amazon brings in authors with a chance at more money while Apple just quietly restricts their distribution rights with a clause that users not only never explicitly accept, but don’t even see unless they go out of their way.
That said, there are a few situations where I think this will be an extremely valuable thing to have. If you are planning to create and distribute your work permanently free of charge, I have yet to find a more intuitive, affordable tool for making textbooks or manuals. If your book was always intended to be marketed primarily to users of the iBooks store, this probably won’t have much of an impact on you.
Now, let’s acknowledge some ambiguities in the wording and clarify some of the many common points of contention:
Restrictions Only Apply To iBook Format: FALSE
The definition of “Work” used in the EULA clearly indicates that anything generated using the software counts. It does not matter if you export to PDF, for example.
Apple Is Stealing Author Copyrights: FALSE
Anything you create is yours from the moment you create it unless you explicitly hand over permission. What Apple is doing is telling you where you can sell it. Using iBooks Author allows them to restrict distribution of your work, but otherwise seems to offer them no rights to it.
All This Applies To Is The Formatted Product, Not The Content: AMBIGUOUS
Leaving aside the textbook for a moment and assuming we are talking about a book that is completely text based. If you want to release a Kindle version, it would seem possible to just copy the text and reformat. The wording of the EULA describes “Work” recursively as “any book or other work you generate using this software”. This can, and hopefully would be, read to mean that only the final, fully formatted output is affected, but the ambiguity is troubling.
It Is Free Software, They Have A Right To Expect A Return: TRUE-ISH
Nobody is forcing you to use this program. It is being provided free of charge by Apple and provides far greater functionality than any other free program out there for the same purposes. Most such restrictions are aimed toward restriction the active use of the software rather than restricting how a creator can manage their own work, though. Neither illegal nor unprecedented, but odd and somewhat troubling.
Not A Consumer Targeted Software Anyway: FALSE
This one comes up a lot. Despite the large number of advertisements being done involving the cooperation of such publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill in the iBooks Textbook initiative, there has been no indication that they are contributing work under the same agreement. This is free software pointed at teachers and authors in the advertising (particularly the promo video). It has bundled templates to simplify the work, a simple drag and drop interface, and tons of automation. There is depth for those who need it, but definitely not aimed solely at experienced professional textbook publishers.
Apple Can Prevent A Finished Book From Ever Being Sold: TRUE
All that is required for a book to be covered by these restrictions is that it be a product of iBooks Author. Publication is neither automated nor guaranteed, and just because Apple turns you down does not mean that you are free to market your work through another platform or sell through your own means.
Apple Offers Better/Worse Royalties Than The Competition Anyway: FALSE
Apple is effectively offering the same cut of all sales to authors as the vast majority of authors receive when selling for the Kindle and nearly the same (within 5%) as that offered to Nook sellers.
Now, I’m not about to claim that this is the most horrible thing ever done to authors or even that it is deliberately malicious. Some have claimed that just as this is a 1.0 software, so is the EULA in early versions too and ambiguity will inevitably be removed. If so, and there was no intent to deceive or control, so be it. It is already a complicated enough process to get anything out of your eBooks that authors should be aware of what they are getting into, though. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be locked out of the Kindle platform by accident when that’s where all the readers are.
This is good software. Possibly great software. But the limitations aren’t the same as you get when publishing a Kindle Edition, where all you need to worry about is not selling things cheaper elsewhere. Under the current wording it seems to literally stop you from reaching an audience. That’s just unpleasant, and something that people need to be aware of when deciding whether or not iBooks Author is for them.
It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall. Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education. That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose. Kindle or Nook? eReader or Tablet? Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway? When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.
First, determine what your eBook needs will be. Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework. This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks. Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments. For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway). As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying. This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.
In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible. Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense. The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this. If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one. If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.
Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model. Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service. For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference. Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other. For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.
I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks. Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.
Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader. In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions. In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom. They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation. Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.
Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free. Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.
In college, I was always grateful to be an English major because my books were pretty small and relatively inexpensive, but I had plenty of friends who lugged around huge, expensive science or math textbooks around everywhere. Come to think of it, the Kindle edition of many of the classics I read in my English classes are free.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has introduced its new Kindle Textbook Rental Program. Amazon has been offering new and used print editions of textbooks for awhile. What a great use for the Kindle DX, especially since it has a bigger screen. There has been some push for use of the Kindle DX in education in recent years, but it hasn’t really taken off. But, regardless of whether you download your textbook to your Kindle, Kindle DX, iPad, computer, smartphone, etc, you’ll save a lot of money and backache.
With device choices, you get more customizable fonts and color contrasts. Often, print textbooks are in small print, making it harder to see. You can also annotate or highlight without damaging the book and decreasing its value.
You can either buy the textbook or rent it for specified length of time between 30 and 360 days. Kindle editions are much cheaper. Amazon claims that the Kindle versions are up to 80% less than the print versions. Something I’d like to see if the ability to sell “used” Kindle textbooks to others like you can do with print editions.
You’ll find subjects all across the board: from business and accounting to history and literature. There are also test prep guides and computer software manuals. Looks like a great collection to start with, and more are constantly added.
So, hopefully the combination of cheaper Kindles, cheaper textbooks, and lighter backpacks will take the financial and physical burden off students.
As pilot programs at seven universities around the country wrap up their evaluations of the Kindle DX as a viable teaching tool and textbook alternative, we see pretty much the expected results. The eReader that has been such a pleasure to use in leisure is perhaps not quite ready for the academic scene.
Humanities classes, especially Literature classes which it would otherwise seem that the Kindle is ideally suited to, tend to involve active reading aids such as highlighting, annotation, page marking, etc. These habits are built up over years as students work their way through their programs. Most of these options are present in the Kindle software in some form, of course, and the ability to access your changes and notes on any platform is a major plus, but the device itself has a coupe minor shortcomings in speed and input design that haven’t quite been fully worked out yet.
As development continues and successive versions make the Kindle more responsive, feature-packed, and convenient to annotate, we’re sure to see things change. For now, those students who are willing to cope with the minor inconveniences are already enjoying savings of sometimes as much as 75% on texts for their classes, a savings which easily pays for the device itself over the course of a college career.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, is a childhood favorite for many young girls and women. On the Kindle, you can get this cherished book for free. The best part is that the book doesn’t get worn out or become unreadable from the usual wear and tear of reading it over and over.
In addition to Little Women, there are many other classics available for free to download on the Kindle. These books include Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and Homer’s the Illiad just to name a few examples from the selection.
Charles Dickens' Hard Times
Classics in general are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and many are available in paperback. On Amazon, a copy of Little Women costs about $3.95, but for college and university students, this small expense can add up. Many of these classics are required readings for English Literature courses and students often have to purchase other, much larger and more expensive textbooks.
Often, after the course is over, the book never gets picked up again. Can you imagine reading Hard Times for pleasure? Downloading it for free on the Kindle saves the expense and the student can put the money towards something else. Another great advantage of accessing free classics for the Kindle is that they can be viewed on other platforms such as the PC, Mac, iPhone and Blackberry.
The transition to electronic textbooks, once thought to the next big boon for publishers, is meeting with surprising resistance among students and professors. Studies conducted on the Kindle DX at business schools across the country showed an overwhelming–90%–support of the ereader by students for casual reading. However only the tech savvy “power users” embraced the device for academic work. Many students and their professors, used to highlighting text and making notes in the margins, were unable or unwilling to use Kindle DX’s annotation functions. But they may be forced to catch up.
With their relative low cost, electronic textbooks are an inevitable part of higher education’s future. Not withstanding the initial purchase price, the cost storing and maintaining electronic books is less than half that of paper books. Campus librarians have already foreseen the death of the traditional library. Rather than a storehouse for large numbers of paper volumes, the library of the not-too-distant future will be place for students to use their laptops to access the college’s digital collections.
Technology aside, there are immediate benefits that are impossible to overlook. It’s easier to haul a Kindle than the hundreds of pounds of books and study materials it replaces. Even considering the initial cost of the device, it can save money on text book costs. And it’s greener on the environment, an important consideration for academics. Lev Gonick, vice president of information technology services at Case Western Reserve, likened the resistance to ebooks to that seen with any new technology. College students, recognized for their trend setting nature, will soon become converts.
I’ve covered before the possible applications that the Kindle and other eReaders could have in education. With Amazon’s pilot program for Kindle usage at universities, this semester is a testing of the waters for the future of eTextbooks. The students involved have begun to voice their impressions, and they’re not entirely satisfied.
Does this mean that eReader adoption in the academic world will slow down? Probably not. The whole point of the Kindle trial is to see what works, and what doesn’t, when eReaders are put in the classroom. So far students like the convenience of textbooks in the Kindle platform, but aren’t happy about studying with it. Complaints are mainly about the inconvenience of note taking and flipping between passages when compared to traditional books.
But these complaints aren’t surprising. The Kindle isn’t designed as an academic tool. The whole reason for its success is that it is an entertainment device, created for the purpose of reading books for entertainment. The opposite would be something like the Plastic Logic, which was created explicitly for the business world with entertainment as a secondary goal. Chances are, Amazon is planning something similar to the touchscreen enabled Plastic Logic, some sort of Kindle academic edition. Touch screen would be the most obvious addition, but a school oriented Kindle will probably find other ways to innovate as well. The pilot program means that Amazon now has tons of data explaining exactly what students need from an academic eReader. I don’t see why Amazon wouldn’t use it.
Flat World Knowledge, a provider of cheap digital textbooks, has grown dramatically over the summer. This fall semester, over 40,000 college students will use Flat World’s textbooks. This is 40 times as many people as in the last spring semester.
This is cool for a number of reasons. First of all, Flat World’s text books are super cheap. To read the book in a web browser is free. Most students, however, are willing to pay the $20 upgrade to receive DRM free PDF files. And if a student really hates digital media, there is still the option to pay even more for a physical copy. There isn’t any real downside for the students who have Flat World textbooks assigned in their classes.
The second reason why I like this story is that it means more professors are choosing digital formats for their classes. This is a conscious decision on the part of the teachers to provide students with a more convenient and much cheaper alternative to traditional textbooks.
Students who own the Kindle DX, or other eReaders, are going to especially benefit from this. Since the files come in PDF format, there is no reason why they couldn’t be put on a DX. Even better, Flat World plans to add the Amazon format to their library this year. It shouldn’t be long before students can download their books cheaply, over Whispernet, and (since the books are available in multiple formats) no worries about accessibility.
Two interesting pieces of news surfaced recently:
Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, gave a speech on Sunday titled “The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees.” Here are some interesting excerpts from it, courtesy of The E&P Pub:
What we call newspapers today, I call ‘news organizations,’ journalistic enterprises, if you will. They’re the source of news. And people will reach it if it’s done well, whether they do it on a Blackberry or Kindle or a PC.
I can see the day maybe 20 years away where you don’t actually have paper and ink and printing presses. I think it will take a long time and I think it’s a generational thing that is happening. But there’s no doubt that younger people are not picking up the traditional newspapers.
Personally I could bet that newspapers will stop using XV century technology sooner than 20 years from now in most of the industrial world. It will be the same story as with film cameras being replaced by digital. The new technology is going to become much cheaper and it is already more convenient to use. Personally I always hated to unfold and page though newspaper although I suspect Murdoch was referring to “younger people” who are younger than I am… Yes, Kindle may cost $359 or $489 today but lets not forget that in 1990 0.0768 megapixel black-and-white digital camera cost $1,000.
Over in California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced initiative to make digital textbooks for subjects such as geometry, algebra , trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, life science and earth science available to high-school students by August, 2009 when new school year begins.
Currently California is in the middle of financial crisis facing 24 billion dollar budget deficit. According to the official announcement with textbooks costing $75..100, a school district with 10,000 students can save up to 2 million dollars.
Official press release can be found here.
Arnold Schwarzenegger On Digital Textbooks
Remember me speculating about 9.7″ screen in Kindle 3? Well, the only difference is that it’s called Kindle DX!
Today Amazon announced availability of Kindle DX: Amazon’s 9.7″ Wireless Reading Device. It will start shipping sometime this summer and is available for pre-order now. As I’ll definitely would like to write a hands-on review of it I’m preordering one right now…
2 major differences in Kindle DX compared to Kindle 2 are: 9.7″ 16 shades of gray eInk screen that runs at 1200×824 resolution and native PDF support. Other notable new features include iPhone-like auto-rotate and flash-memory upgraded to 3.3 gigabytes.
Kindle DX is actually much anticipated “Kindle textbook edition”. According to Wall Street Jounal Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland along with 5 other universities will start piloting Kindle DX as a universal textbook. With 4 major textbook publishers (Addison Wiley, Prentice Hall, Person and Longman) on-board long with several smaller ones it’s expected that Kindle DX will have 60% of textbooks available when it ships. Larger screen would also be a bonus to people who are used to reading regular newspapers.
Here are all features and specifications of Kindle DX that I could dig up so far:
- Size: 10.4″ x 7.2″ x 0.38″ (Kindle 2: 8″ x 5.3″ x 0.36″)
- Display: 16 shades of gray eInk 9.7″ 1200×824 pixels (Kindle 2: 6″ 800×600)
- Weight: 18.9oz (Kindle 2: 10.2oz)
- Storage: 3.3GB (Kindle 2: 1.4GB)
- Battery life: 4 days with 3G modem on, 2 weeks with modem off (really it’s limited just by the number of page turns). This is pretty much the same as Kindle 2
- Connectivity: 3G wireless modem, USB 2.0 port and 3.5mm audio jack