iBooks textbooks? Sorry, not for Australia


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.

Image credit: 惟①刻¾, Creative Commons


  1. It is amazing that providers geolock like this. All it does is drive people to BitTorrent which has no restrictions (legal or otherwise), and once people figure out they can get for free, they don’t go back.

    How many people hit the .torrents to find music that worked on their no-name MP3 while the record labels insisted on DRM? Have any come back to paid music now you can get plain MP3s from itunes and others?

    Prices of books are better, but I used to be able to buy a text book new from Amazon and sell it for more second-hand at the uni bookshop than I paid for it. They paid 50% of their retail price for good condition books and then sold them at 75%. We all won :-)

    eBook Libraries are another option. QUT offers access to quite a few with 14 day loans in PDF or EPUB format. If you want to read for longer, just google “inept”

  2. Last time I looked, Google Books was woeful (in Australia). It was even worse than iBooks. To be honest, I *am* still (a bit) surprised geo restrictions are in place – that is so 2003.

    Seriously, If I am going to buy books online, especially ebooks, I’d rather buy directly from a publisher who gets it, like http://www.oreilly.com.

    • Yeah I wasn’t impressed with Google’s range when I checked it a few months back. Amazon is the only bookstore really worth using at the moment, particularly with regard to cross-device compatibility, with Apple coming a distant second.

  3. Apple are doing some significant things this year within the education sector in regards increasing penetration to early child hood and beyond. One of their strategies in the US is bringing entire school classes as well as school administrators (educators, buyers, decision makers) into Apple HQ, and giving them intense exposure to how Apple does education and how it provides a platform on how to deliver educational material. In addition, they are then giving them free products such as iPods, iPads and supporting apps/services/training. They are getting consumers to use and love their product before they have a chance to be exposed to other technology.

    Apple already have good adoption within the tertiary education markets but their goal is to get people to buy apple at an earlier age for the simple reason that once a user goes apple they never jump ship to other OS’s/Vendors.

    Until Google and god forbid Microsoft learn how to communicate and interact with their customer base or potential customer base they will never be able to tackle the might of Apple when it comes to the consumer/vendor interaction experience.

    In regards to geo-locking of material, this all comes comes down to old school distribution models. Australia will always lag behind the rest of the world regardless of the material being music, movies, books etc. We are a tiny market compare to the US, Asia and EU.

    I would suggest that over the next 12 months an increased level of iOS adoption within education which will lead to Apple and various educational material distributors releasing material in the AU market.

    • Excellent post. You’ve saved me the hard work by posting much of what I wanted to say. However I would like to add that I’m not sure why this article has taken such a negative reaction to something that was so obviously going to be US-centric in the first place.

      I think people tend to forget the sheer numbers of users involved in giant roll-outs of new platforms and software like this, and there’s no way they are going to ever be able to roll out content internationally until local agreements can be made with specific publishers in different countries. Secrecy is also the key to Apple’s success, and once you go international the chances of leaks increases dramatically.

      I have no doubt that tablets and software like iBooks is the future of education, but it’s still a distant future for most of the world.

    • In reference to Australia being a small market, that’s true, but it is also a great place to test new technologies because of this. Australians are typically tech-savvy and are very quick adopters. The numbers are small in global terms so if there is a failure of a product under test then its ramifications are comparatively minimal.

  4. A massive US corporation trying to vendor-lock the australian educational system? And this is a good thing? Do you base your skepticism on how hot the front-of-house sales staff are?

    • Locking the education system into one vendor does creep me the fuck out too. Especially one who controls content on their systems as much as Apple does.

      That said given the expense of making such multimedia titles it makes me wonder how publishers of Australian specific titles are going to deal with this (the move to multimedia heavy interactive apps as books) as it rolls out.

  5. several respondents have identified key aspects of the system components that lead to geolocking : Australia’s miniscule market size; early industrial age publishing contracts & distribution models based on shiing paper carried forward to the digital age; etc. but things shiwed be called out. first Australian trade policy reinforces this geo-centic approach in publishing. We call it protecting local authors, apparently because purchasers making their own decisions would choose pfreferentially non-Australian authored works. But the result is the same- impeding the free flow of ideas and protecting a local market for fear that it can’t compete on its own merits.

    The unfortunate and sad note is the ‘explanation’ for the theft of intellectual work because people want what they can’t have so the ‘natural’ result is to steal it. I’d like to have many things I can’t have at the moment, either because it’s not available in Australia, or because it is pricier than I can currently afford, or because Australian law simply bans its importation and has made it illegal. All of these reasons, from the arguments in the initial posts would suggest that therefore I shoud find ways to steal what I want.

    We may disagree as to the fairness of what is or is not available in the Aussie maretplace, and I hope we raise our voices to argue for and remove silly geo-based restrictions on the availability of intellectual property. I also hope we more articulately make the case that what we lack in market volume we make up for in being a unique “test case” – a market small enough to try something new without betting the farm, yet diverse enough to provide valuable feedback to the company in their product design, development, distribution and marketing. We could offer an ‘early market’ learning value that would make our numbers pale to the information we coud provide. And after all this is the era of the information economy, right? I’d suggest this is a far better opportunity than theft.


  6. Serves them right if people pirate them.
    Restrictions like these – and the resentment they provoke – is one reason people pirate books.
    (Yes there are many others, but this is one, and provides emotional energy for it.)

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