OverDrive (and everyone else) Gets Into Education

If you haven’t noticed, the big thing these days is education. There are a thousand reasons for this but whenever I see a company, corporation, or organization leaning heavily towards education and spending money to get a foot in the academic door, I have to wonder what’s in it for them.

Today, March 3, 2014, OverDrive announced their acquisition of TeachersNotebook, an online place for teachers to post, sell, and buy courseware.¬† Basically you can think of it as a marketplace for curriculum. This isn’t a new development in the tech sphere as both Apple and Microsoft are trying to make in-roads into education, textbooks, courseware, teaching aids, and so on. Amazon is pursuing the eTextbook front with vigour. So the big question is… why?

Everything old is... well, still kind of old.

Everything old is… well, still kind of old.

Well there’s always the early adopter angle and that’s a powerful angle to consider. If you pop on over to the online Apple Store you’ll notice that, after all these years, you can still buy a shiny new iPad 2.

Wait, what?

Why in the heck would I want to buy a three year old tablet device from Apple when, for $100 more you get the iPad Air? It’s updated, has a far better display, better hardware, and promises to be the next big thing in tablet devices because, effectively, it will be able to run desktop quality apps. Well the answer is simple: I don’t want to buy a three year old iPad and neither do you.

But a school would. For that price they can get grants and raise money to put a game changing and ground breaking device in the hands of every student in the school. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. Computers aren’t exactly a passing fad. Tablets aren’t devices of the future, they are devices of the present. You can pile books, courseware, multimedia stuff, and scads of other content on a tablet for the students to use and, as an added bonus, they have a connection to the web, libraries, and everything the Internet has to offer.

You also have a young person who grows up using an iPad and, when it comes time to give the tablet back to the school and buy a tablet for yourself, what do you think they’re going to buy?

Moving beyond tablets you have to realize that the tablet isn’t just a tablet, it’s a delivery mechanism for services. If, like me, you have a WiFi enabled tablet that doesn’t have cell service, you’ll find there’s damn little you can do with it if it’s not connected to the Net. So when you’re out and about without your WiFi connection, you’ll find it’s not so much your tablet as it is a shiny electronic device full of undeliverable content. Every tablet vendor out there from Windows 8.1 to iOS to Android to Kindle Fire — they want you to buy the tablet sure, but it’s more important to them that you use their services. App Stores, cloud storage, online office software, email, and the like… they all offer some level of “exclusive” services.

It didn’t take long for other companies, companies that don’t make tablets, to realize that they could offer their own services and be somewhat platform agnostic. How could they resist? See, I have a hypothesis, and it could be totally wrong, but I have this feeling that when you’re receiving an education, what you use becomes intimately connected with you. I still have many of the books from my college classes on Japanese pop culture, history, and the history of science.

More importantly, I still have many of the habits I picked up while getting educated in high school and college. To this day, I carry a spiral notebook in my bag. While I do almost everything on Evernote, I still write down a lot of stuff. I read non-fiction in a certain way, especially if I’m reading it to learn stuff rather than just reading it for fun. Notes are taken in a certain manner, and organized just so. I will take notes on paper and, if important, I’ll transfer them to Evernote.

What if I grew up using an iPad instead of a spiral notebook?

What if I grew up reading books on an OverDrive like service with courseware rather than dead tree textbooks? And when I got to college, what if I’d rented textbooks from Amazon rather than standing on queue for 45 minutes in a college bookstore, hefting an armload of books that I prayed I could sell back at the end of the quarter for some minimal return? How many instructor created booklets did I buy rather than just download and read on a tablet?

I don’t remember the words “lock in” being part of the language until Apple introduced the iPhone and all of the other companies followed in its footsteps. “Lock in” is a newer thing, where you buy a device and take the ride. I can’t run Android apps on this iPad and I can’t have iOS stuff on this Samsung. I can have one or the other, not both, and I will not have certain things on one device that I can on the other. Since I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, I understand that I gave up on getting some really great iOS apps. Not only do I miss out on the apps, but I miss out on the services. I don’t get iCloud or support for my Mac computers on my Note 3.

However, I can use OverDrive anywhere. I can use Amazon everywhere. While Amazon makes a tablet, they also make an app and they will put that app on a watch if they felt it would help. I think these ventures into education by service providers is their way of getting lock in without making a device. Not only that, they get ’em while they’re young or, at the very least, impressionable.

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