NEW YORK (
is pushing into the textbook market but high school students still can't get a deal on Apple products.
Apple says that education is at the heart of its DNA (though the idea DNA has a heart hopefully will not be in the biology textbooks with which Apple is beginning this effort), making this
digital textbook push within its existing iBooks program more than just another product launch.
In aiming the effort at the high school market first, though, there is a disconnect between the profits Apple sees in disrupting the current approach of educational publishers and the profits it derives from selling devices like iPads to students.
If you want a deal on an Apple product as a student, you have to head off to college.
The Apple Education Store offers a discount on some products in its lineup -- though not iPads specifically -- to the K-12 school market, though, only teachers and administrators qualify for a discount on products including the Mac. College students qualify for discounts directly through Apple's Education Store. In both cases, a discount on iPad purchases is only available when a bulk order of 10 iPads is made -- $4,790 for 10 iPads, versus the $499 regular purchase price (about a $20 discount per iPad).
Leaving the iPad aside, the Apple approach to educational discounting seems logical: College is the time in a student's life when a steady diet of mac-n-cheese and ramen noodles is the only way to survive.
While still at home in high school, students don't have a monetary care in the world. This view, though, presupposes that students below the college level are all living in the cozy, middle-class-and-up suburbs of the United States. In fact, the vast majority of high school age students in this country don't come from that environment, while a significant percentage of students who do go to college and then qualify for the Apple Education Store discount do.
The textbook market push is being positioned as one of the final dreams of late Apple founder Steve Jobs. In the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs, Jobs says that textbooks were an $8 billion a year industry ripe for disruption. Jobs also seemed to feel sympathy for "kids have to lug a heavy backpack around." This comment referred to the practice in many public schools of not having lockers for security reasons.
It's safe to assume that in schools where there are no lockers for security reasons, there probably are plenty of students who can't afford an iPad on their own or whose parents can't afford to buy them an iPad, and it's probably also safe to assume that the schools are in districts where funding for bulk iPad purchases isn't high on the priority list of already cash-strapped administrators.
This is about as anecdotal as evidence gets, but among my dozen or so friends who are public school teachers, only two work in schools where Apple products are bought on behalf of students by the school. One works in a Nassau County, Long Island zip code which has among the highest property tax rates (i.e. well-funded school districts) in the nation. The other works at a public school in "socialist" Canada. Last January, the
New York Times
reported on the fact that the New York City public school system had bought 2,000 iPads. That's for a student population city-wide of over one million.
There's a good idea in the Apple digital textbook push, but whether it's a revolutionary change in the life of a student is another matter. Apple always claims to be creating revolutions, and maybe in the final analysis, money will be saved by shaking up the current state administrator/publisher complex. Even if that means having to turn around and buy an iPad for every student in their classrooms.
It's too soon to tell if students will benefit in this way, though -- and I'm willing to reserve judgment -- but there's still something not quite right about a company whose founder never graduated from college, a company that has a stranglehold over the idea of making "revolutions" of mass consumption, that is still charging high school students full price for its products. Especially when there are plenty of digital textbook device options that are cheaper than the iPad to begin with.
If Apple really is providing the revolutionary tools that can "change lives" early on, why not change lives starting before freshman year of college? In fact, if an Apple product can make a difference in a student's life, even give that kid an educational advantage that will get them to college in the end, wouldn't it make more sense to give the kid on his way to college a deal rather than the one already in?
It seems like the textbook push may be more about getting a piece of the textbook publishers lunch than it is about providing the public school kid with more milk money. There's nothing wrong with that from a business sense, but there's nothing about it that makes me think education is in Apple's heart, or to use the tech giant's own marketing words, the heart of its DNA.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether any Education Store discounts would be added to complement the textbook initiative.
-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
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