So, Apple’s recent iBooks 2 announcement has many drooling in the media. While I applaud the attempt to make textbooks more affordable, I do not like the proprietary nature of the implementation. Consumers are getting locked more and more into walled gardens. If one legally purchases a digital book, movie, or song, they should be able to take and use this media on any device. Unfortunately, it seems there is a big push to the Cloud to lock people into specific platforms. This is great for the companies, but not so great for us as consumers.
If I leave said company’s ecosystem, and want my the same media elsewhere, if they do not give me a way to download those purchases and then upload them somewhere else, then I’m screwed as a consumer. I’ll have to repurchase said items again. The other disturbing item is that the book formats are not standardized, or they have DRM added to them. Copyright should be protected but not at the expense of allowing a consumer to legaly move their digital content to other platforms.
Apple isn’t the sole cause of concern. As more content moves to the cloud for storage, we as consumers should be demanding that our content is stored and available in a standard format for offline consumption. Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook are also cause for concern, but not as much because you aren’t locked into a particular device to view the content. Amazon and Nook should make the content available that you purchase in a standard format so that you do not need to re-purchase it elsewhere.
While I’m not a big fan of the Google book store, at least they provide some instructions on how to download your content for offline viewing, into ePub or PDF format. Personally, ePub is a much better format than PDF and works better across devices. Like or hate, Google, they are at least giving you the option to take your purchases with you if you decide to leave their cloud based system.
The big problem though with the Apple announcement is the fact that it locks you into the iPad/iPhone/iCloud ecosystem. If I was part of a schools IT system, I’d be raising all sorts of hell about this lock in. For one thing, it requires an iPad. Not something that every school can or should have to purchase to educate children. If the content was available in a standardized format, and available on multiple non-Apple devices I probably would not have as much problem with the announcement. The costs are also out of wack for the public education system, as the books have to be purchased each year by the students. Currently most schools loan the books to the students, and they turn them back in at the end of the year. The current format of making the students by each of the books, is cost prohibitive to many in the public and even private education systems.
The proprietary nature can be addressed through standardization, and making sure we as consumers are demanding that our digital content work across multiple devices. If you buy a book through the bookstores for Amazon, Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble, or other retailers, that purchase should work on whatever device you have. If you want to use it on your Kindle, and purchased it from Apple, it should work.
Unfortunately, we as consumers seem to be getting complacent. We seem to be taking the easy way out, and only really are protactive on something once it really seems to affect us. Take a look at the recent Blackout by Wikipedia on the whole SOPA thing. The vast majority of people probably had no clue what was happening until they could no longer access their content. Now imagine the same thing happening for your other digital content being held in the Cloud.
I love the idea of digital textbooks, especially for the higher education institutions, I just think it needs to be portable and not locked into proprietary clouds and data formats. Knowledge should not be caged.