news Apple appears to have broadly limited access to the range of new educational textbooks announced through its iBookstore overnight to students in the US, locking Australians and those in other countries out of accessing most of the new content from publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson. However, although a small amount of titles appear to have begun to filter into the Australian iBookstore this afternoon.
Overnight in the US, the company announced the second version of its iBooks application for iOS devices, stating that the new software would enable the delivery of “an entirely new kind of textbook” that would be “dynamic, engaging and truly interactive”. With the aim of replacing weighty and expensive school textbooks with electronic version typically costing less than US$14.99, the company has partnered with existing educational publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson to offer textbooks in a range of areas, including algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry and physics. The company plans to offer textbooks from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “soon”.
However, buried in the company’s information statement regarding the iBooks 2 update is a notice stating that the new textbooks would be “currently available to customers in the United States” — but not elsewhere.
Early searches of the iBookstore this afternoon through the new version of iBooks installed on an iPad in Australia revealed there are virtually no textbooks available for purchase through the store to Australians. A search for “maths textbook”, for example, returned no results, and the same for “biology textbook” and “chemistry textbook”. A direct search for “McGraw-Hill” revealed several educational books in niche areas. For example, one available title (price for free) was Alec Reed’s Capitalism is Dead: Peoplism Rules. Another was The Black Book of Clinical Examination by Tey Hong Liang, for $29.99.
Late this afternoon as this article was published, Apple does appear to have added some textbooks into the Australian iBookstore, adding several featured titles to the front page to make readers aware of them. Two publishers — DK Publishing (part of Penguin, which is ultimately part of Pearson) and Wilson Digital appear to have newly published textbooks in the Australian iBookstore today. Titles include Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Life, My First ABC and Life on Earth. The textbooks appear to be examples of Apple’s new interactive textbook format, as they can range up to a gigabyte in size, containing multimedia features such as video. So far, there appears to be only a half-dozen such textbooks available in the Australian store.
The situation is the latest example of new technology or content being launched in the US by technology giants such as Apple and Google but not being available in Australia.
Apple’s Siri voice recognition system for the iPhone 4S, for example, couldn’t research local businesses, maps or traffic when it launched in October last year; Apple’s iTunes Cloud feature was only available to US residents when it launched in June, and it took Apple a substantial amount of time to add eBooks from major publishers to the Australian version of its iBookstore platform.
The availability of eBooks in Australia continues to lag behind that in the US, with locals being locked out of a number of titles available in the US version of the largest global eBooks platform, Amazon’s Kindle store. Google launched its eBooks platform locally in November, a year after it launched in the US, but also has substantially fewer books available in Australian than in the US.
The news of Apple’s textbook limitations comes despite the news that education departments and universities around Australia have been engaging in major trials of the iPad for more than a year. One of the most high-profile examples saw the University of Adelaide decree in September 2010 that all first-year science students would receive free iPads as an alternative to paper textbooks.