Apple e-textbook tools to jack up education and hardware costs ultimately? And could the DPLA help offer an alternative?

Tweaked. See update at the end.

While the Digital Public Library of America has been fixated on arcane library-and-museum concerns, Apple is unveiling an e-book creation tool that might lock in some teachers and students.

Very possibly the new multimedia tool may ultimately jack up costs somewhat in K-12 and elsewhere. This could happen via more expensive books and perhaps more justification for premiums on Apple hardware. Textbooks created with the new tool, called iBooks Author, will let students rotate and explore 3D objects, among other features. That’s good. But iBooks Author comes with gotchas.

–Charge for a book created with iBooks? You may legally distribute it only through iTunes or Apple’s bookstore. That could affect some textbook prices.

–And the creation tool will run only on Macs. No luck if you use  GNU/linux  or Windows.

The creation tool’s output is close to ePub but not quite there, which could make the format a bit problematic for some people. Still, Apple is hoping that its ease of use will still encourage people to switch to it. Some would write this off as a minor consideration, simple to get around. I’m not so sure: not all e-book creators are sophisticated technically. Why can’t unencumbered creation tools also be easy to use?

Granted, the DPLA already has a lot on its plate. Still, the Apple approach is the opposite of the library ecosystem approach I’ve advocated here and here. I wish the DPLA would pay more attention to basics and work with others to offer free creation tools without gotchas.

Reporting on the new Apple initiative, Wired says: “Meanwhile, iBooks Author is the trojan horse. There really aren’t many easy-to-use e-book authoring apps, even for plain-text books for Kindle or Nook. And none of the easy-to-use applications have been free.

“Now both individual authors and trade and textbook presses can be drawn into a development and publishing ecosystem that begins and ends with Apple. Amazon may offer more eyeballs, but Apple offers an easier workflow. And the multimedia enhancements baked into the new iBooks will tempt everyone creating an e-book to add bits that will be specific to Apple’s platform—creating accidental exclusives.

Sure enough, about the iBooks 2 reading app, Wired says: “Disappointingly there’s no move to offer a desktop client for Mac or Windows.”

Please, DPLA, can’t you pay more attention to mundane things like creation tools and e-reading software and coordinate your act better with the IDPF, the e-book standards group? Let’s turn the nation’s computer science departments into—in part—R&D labs for nonproprietary standards and authoring and reading apps. Significantly, the DPLA for now is mostly a creature of academia. Here’s a chance to use that fact for the good.

Update, 5:40 p.m. Jan. 19 and 4:30 a.m., Jan. 20: The real danger doesn’t seem to be the output format as much as the connection between iBooks Author software and the Mac, or between the iBooks 2 reading app and Apple hardware. I’ve changed the original copy accordingly. But, no, the format isn’t pure ePub.

Related: Just spotted, via Peter Brantley’s e-publishing list: Joe Esposito’s essay, reaching some of the conclusions I do. This is a platform war. And consumers will pay—in inconvenience if nothing else—the accompanying costs. Also see views of Vook, an Apple software competitor.

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