Apple iBooks 2 license agreement gets icy reception in higher education

A blogger who tracks Apple products called the iBooks 2 license agreement 'Apple at its worst.'

Advocates for open-license textbooks in higher education, while largely unhappy with Apple’s new iBooks 2 platform, say the technology behemoth has done a favor for their movement: Apple’s pricey, limiting approach to digital textbooks is in stark contrast to the textbook model that aims for low-cost or free college texts.

iBooks 2, announced to great fanfare during a flashy Jan. 19 press conference in New York City, offers iBooks Author software that enables instructors and others to create and publish their own interactive digital textbooks in the Apple iBooks Bookstore. Some campus technology leaders hailed the new iBooks platform as a revolution in digital publishing.

Others took a close look at the iBooks 2 licensing agreement’s fine print and called it “crazy evil,” “mind-bogglingly greedy,” and “deliberate sabotage” of the open, industry-leading standard known as EPUB.

Since 2010, Apple has publicly supported the popular EPUB standard, bringing hope to many in higher education that the company would someday abide by those open standards that could lower skyrocketing book costs.

But iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author software “locks out” that standard, Ed Bott, a technology writer and expert on license agreements, wrote in his blog.

Apple chose a closed system in which the company controls the creation and distribution of textbooks—which will start at $14.99 for K-12 textbooks—that directly undercuts the slow but steady effort to expand low-cost textbooks that can be accessed on any device, not just iPads.

“It is underscoring the difference between the two approaches, only one of which encourages the education community to rally around a set of principles,” said Eric Frank, co-founder and president of Flat World Knowledge, an open textbook publishing company. “It really shows that there is a different future for textbooks and illustrates the problems with the other model, the closed approach.”

Open-license textbook proponents said iBooks 2 follows the same successful approach taken by the company in its ubiquitous iTunes model.

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