Is Apple to Blame for Higher E-Book Prices?

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Is the trial about why e-book prices jumped when Apple entered the market in 2010 much ado about nothing for educators? Maybe not.

All of the strategies that educators have embraced since the dawn of the Kindle era half a decade ago, keeping the per-title costs as low as possible has trumped almost every other issue. (Follett Shelf, anyone?)

Amazon’s innovative approach to insuring that readers could access their content across multiple mobile reading devices created a loophole that, along with Amazon’s willingness to build its market by selling e-books at a loss, made the Kindle a great device for schools. Buying books at a discount and loading them onto six school-owned Kindles made then, and still makes, a lot of sense to frugal school librarians. See this post on why one school says “no to Whispercast” for this very reason.

Now, with the devices so inexpensive that it cost more to purchase that other staple of high school education, the calculator, the Kindle ecosystem is more education-friendly than ever.

What does take a hit in this trial, though, is Apple’s pristine credibility among educators. I mean, Apple offers educator discounts and Amazon does not, Apple was the vendor of preference for schools who were building computer labs in the early days, and iPads have grabbed the spotlight from the Kindle as a learning device in the past year or so. Seeing Apple through the same glasses we have been taught to view Amazon–consumer business first, education second (or third)–is a bit of a shift.

So this trial does have meaning for educators. E-books have become big business–20% of the total trade book market according to reports. Obviously, any strategy adopted by the legacy print book industry to ensure that it achieves profit margins for e-books similar to those it enjoys for its print books will take a few more dollars out of the school budget every time you buy a book. With many authors exploring alternative publishing options, outside the traditional (and expensive) channels, maybe that will change by itself in a few years. But for right now, anything that limits creativity, innovation, and competition in the marketplace can’t be good for educators, or for anyone else.