Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians and the Cult

Since most major news publications assume that everyone in the world should care about Apple, even if you don’t own an Apple device you’re likely aware that Apple will no longer allow ebook apps like Kindle or Kobo to sell ebooks directly through the app without giving Apple 30% of the profit.

In response, Amazon, Google Books, and Kobo have eliminated the purchase option inside their apps. It’s easy enough to bypass the restriction by just going to their websites through the browser, which makes the decision by Apple more annoying than anything else.

It’s like that New York Times pay wall that people immediately found twenty different ways around. It doesn’t keep you from doing something, it just requires a couple of extra steps that shouldn’t be necessary.

What I’m wondering is whether this latest move to make it more difficult for readers to read the books they like how they like will finally free some librarians from the Apple Cult?

I at least was hardly surprised by the news a couple of months ago that an MRI scan of an Apple fanboy (and it’s always a boy, it seems) suggested “that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.”

To those of us not in the cult, the cultish aspects are obvious. Watching people who have neither used nor handled any other smartphone telling me the iPhone is the “best smartphone ever,” or who would never have bought a tablet computer unless Apple made one telling me how the iPad is a “must have device,” is like being Jewish or Catholic or Muslim and watching evangelical Christians talk about the impending Rapture and how Jesus is coming soon to take them home. Um, okay, I guess I’ll just have to take your word on it.

It’s a cult at odds with the culture of librarianship, too, or at least the culture some librarians claim they want to see. Various librarians say they want a culture of openness and technological sophistication, and surely they’d also want a culture of choice about how to read ebooks.

The Apple Cult is all about control, technological passivity, and an absence of choice, the iPhone/iPad/iPod array of devices in particular. Macs are great computers, if overpriced, but iPhones are smartphones for people who like to be told what to do by Steve Jobs.

Those devices are all great as long as you want to passively consume content and have no interest in adding any apps or files to them that Apple disapproves of. They’re about as closed-source as you can get.

Yet librarians rave. I read one blog post by a librarian trying to persuade people how great the iPad was for writing, including long form writing, despite its very obvious limitations. It was the kind of argument that often comes from the Apple Cult, with the iPad as the latest fetish object.

“Well, no, it’s not as good at many things as a laptop, but since it’s an Apple device I just had to have anyway, I’ll try to pretend it’s good for something it’s not really good for. Apple, Apple, Apple!”

I guess if you are a two-finger typist who doesn’t want the sophistication of a great word processing program, then sure, the iPad is a writer’s dream. For fast typists who need sophisticated word processors, writing with an iPad is like writing with an Etch-a-Sketch.

I mentioned the writing problem to one Apple fanboy I know, and he said he solved the problem by getting the detachable iPad keyboard. I guess with the keyboard, the iPad can become a really crappy laptop. Or you could just get Macbook Air, or (gasp!) a non-Apple netbook.

Don’t get me wrong. The iPad is a beautiful device if what you mostly want to do is look at pretty pictures and crisp fonts. Reading a Kindle ebook or the New York Times on an iPad is a very pleasant experience.

Even reading on the iPhone isn’t too bad. Of course, you don’t have the freedom of a real Kindle, or of the Kindle app on other smartphones, both of which allow you to add content that isn’t just synced from Amazon. It’s even more of a closed system than the iPad.

That closed system has now gotten more closed thanks to the recent ebook sales shift. A couple of years ago Steve Jobs said nobody reads books anymore, when it was really just him that didn’t read books.

Now that Apple has realized people do read books, and that they’re not paying Apple for the privilege, Apple wants to make it even harder for people to have any choices on their devices for reading books. Is this really a company any librarians should support?

Amazon gets bashed by librarians for not lending books to libraries or for the Kindle not being in compliance with epub, but Apple’s command and control policy is quietly ignored. A little bias, perhaps?

Maybe the next step will be to eliminate the other ebook apps entirely. If they did, there’s nothing the Apple user could do about it. The Overdrive app might be next, once Apple realizes that if people can borrow library ebooks on their iPad, they will buy fewer of them from the iBooks store.

Even if that happened, it wouldn’t matter to librarians in the cult. They would just come up with another ad hoc reason why something that was annoying and unnecessary was really okay, because, you know, it’s Apple and they know what’s best for us. After all, Apple works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.



  1. There are better tablets than the Ipad all over the place now. There have been better phones for a while. Google and the open hardware/software industry will eat Apple for lunch. For Apple, it’s a repeat of Microsoft and Windows did to them all over again.

    Ultimately history will show that a company that is built on restricting user choice in order to squeeze profit from them is destined to fail. Again, and again.

  2. Did the Kindle app ever let you purchase in-app? As far back as I can remember it kicked you out of the app and onto the Amazon site to do the buying.

    Not that this is a defense of Apple’s draconian policies, mind you. I think it’s a ridiculous move from the company that made its original fortune thanks to spreadsheet software developed by a third party developer that drove sales of the original Apple IIe without them even knowing why.

    And while I’m no Apple fanboy by any stretch of the imagination, the iPad can be a useful tool for writing at least. I carry a collapsible pocket keyboard and use a stand that puts it in portrait mode with a Word emulator.

    It isn’t anything that I couldn’t do with a laptop, but I’m more likely to carry the iPad with me because of its light travel profile. The thing is also a lot easier to slip into a locking desk drawer to keep sticky fingers from swiping it from my somewhat public desk.

    Having said that, it’s still more of an expensive media consuming toy than a serious computing platform, and the people who treat their consumer choices with religious zeal are monumentally annoying. But I’ve known Apple fanboys who have been doing that sort of thing for the past two decades. I think the ubiquity of their devices is just making the stupid more prominent these days.

  3. Libraryman says:

    Personally I have an iphone and wont go back to another device…but I do not like Apple inc or their business practices. I prefer a pc because I can actually do what I wnat with it. Yes apple stuff is good but all they do is deman a cute outside box and use good components made for them by other companies. It’s not like they make it themselves.

  4. davidinvirginia says:

    Which is more annoying? An Apple fanboy?, or an anti-Apple fanboy (or girl)?

  5. Wow, you folks expend way too much energy on this Apple vs. all other platforms debate – It serves only to give credence to zealots on both sides! Not to mention, free advertising to companies that can well afford to pay for it! All this electronic paraphernalia are simply tools used to assist us with that which we endeavour to do electronically! Tools, simply tools! If a particular format etc. works, use it! If it doesn’t, don’t use it!! In simply choosing, you will determine the success or failure of all pertinent companies!

  6. Jim Schneider says:

    My first career, of about 30 years, was in info tech. We called Apple products, especially Macs, “the computers for people who hate computers.” We found it prefectly understandable that Macs were most popular with graphics people and other arty types – people with little talent or interest in hard logic. (Arrogant? Yep.)
    When I started library school a few years ago, my IT background was a major advantage. I had a few classmates who still saw the MLS as one of the few meal-ticket degrees available for liberal arts majors. They had a harder time of it; librarianship and IT overlap much more than formerly. I suspect that some of them are among the Apple super-fans.

  7. I can certainly understand the annoyance with the apple fan boys. It’s the same sort of thing us Apple users had to face for twenty years before ipod introduced Apple to the world. We’d been using Macs all the time the rest of the world thought that “personal computer” was the same thing as a Dell running a Microsoft operating system. It took a lot of guts to come out of the closet and admit that you used a Mac during those dark times.

    Sure the fan boys are annoying but I’m finally on the same side as the loud, rude people and it feels kinda nice.

    And if you think dealing with one little ipad and its proprietary function is tough, try running a publications department where Apple, Quark, Adobe, and Microsoft products all have to play nice together. Each of these entities are trying to run the planet and it gets scary being the little pawn sometimes.

  8. Could we drop “fanboys” and “fangirls” in vague usage and just refer to “fans?” I’ve witnessed a fair share of Apple fangirls, and pinning brand popularity on gender choice is a useless endeavor.

  9. I am really loving the theme/design of your web site. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A small number of my blog readers have complained about my blog not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this issue?

  10. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    As a former librarian and now fulltime writer, my goal is to be represented in all formats: hardcover, large print,
    paperback, trade, and all e-book formats. Competition is good and so is variety in reaching as many readers as possible.

    Jacqueline Seewald

  11. Kaetchen says:

    I’ve just deleted the iBooks app from my iPad out of protest and will not be buying any ebooks from Apple. I encourage other librarians to do the same.

  12. Looks like you had enough juicy keywords in this post to draw out some of the spambots AL.

  13. Apple has more cash than the U.S. government. Why do they need more?

  14. 30% of the profit seems like a steep price to pay but that is why Apple is sitting on top of the throne right now, even with the loss of Steve Jobs.

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