About This Series
Things Publishers Fear is an occasional series about the realities of publishing in the modern era. For the record, survival is not guaranteed, nor is it always deserved.
On the day the iPad’s availablility in the US was announced (April 3 in case you missed it) I thought it suitable to discuss Apple. What’s to fear I hear you say? Hasn’t Apple provided the fodder to defeat Amazon’s nefarious $9.99 pricing demands and with the creation of the iPad opened a whole world of possibilities for publishers? To which the simple answer is yes but the complicated answer is yes, but.
You are right, most publisher probably don’t fear Apple. In fact they have welcomed their arrival on the publishing scene, seeing them as useful counterweights to Amazon. But they are wrong. Apple presents a real problem for publishers one worthy of fear.
Apple has created leverage for publishers that much is true, but is that leverage actually worth anything? Apple seems to have thrown the balance in favour of book publishers in a struggle that is really peripheral to book publishers survival, but in doing so made that struggle look more important than it was. Price, especially the price on specific forms of content (in this case the Kindle edition ebook) is not the sole factor in book publishing’s future, there is much more going on. In fact, the leverage Apple provided has blinded publishers to the larger realities of change and has been, I would argue, detrimental to the industry as a whole.
As for the iPad it is a fine looking device, but the iBooks app which Apple itself describes as:
the best way to browse, buy and read books on a mobile product. The iBookstore will feature books from the New York Times Best Seller list from both major and independent publishers, including Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster.
will not even be native to the product but:
will be available as a free download from the App Store in the US on April 3, with additional countries added later this year.
So, video will be native to the iPad, so will Photos, Safari, Mail, Notes and a few other applications but not iBooks. Will YouTube I wonder? Think that through folks. iBooks not native, why? Why not build it in if the product is so amazing, so intrinsic to the concept? Because Steve Jobs reckons people don’t read anymore.
I guess what he means is that the people who do read will download that app anyway and that most people simply do not consume vast numbers of books in a given year and in some senses they never did, at least not in the way that they watched television or listened to music. So why go to the bother of including it for a few die-hards who will do the work for themselves?
What he means is that books are not central to the iPad as a device, but they make for good marketing copy. In fact books, as far as Apple is concerned, are probably already fringe media and so are not vital to the success of the iPad or else iBooks would have come pre-loaded sitting there ready to download books.
The iPad is about the things that people do a lot of, watch tv and video, listen to music and surf the web. People don’t read books very much on average and so books fail the mass market test. Publishers have been so eager for an ally in the battle with Amazon they’ve ignored the fact that their ally might not really care about their industry much at all.
Binding us more
And then there is the issue that by keeping publishers obsessed with the iBookstore and app creation Apple keeps publishers locked into a closed development system of Apple OS. Which suits Apple and blinds the publishers to the real opportunity they have, and have had for some time now, and which few of them have been embracing, web based content accessible over any device with the use of a browser.
If publishers had pursued web access for the last five years it wouldn’t matter if iBooks was native, Safari would be their Trojan horse allowing readers to buy access online, bypassing Apples 30% tax. Of course the more visionary have done something like this. The O’Reilly/Pearson created Safari Books Online now has some 40 publishers and I would expect to see that kind of platform thrive in a mobile multi-media device environment. At the very least it is in a position to take advantage of web broswers as well as iPad Apps something most publishers will not.
To sum up
Apple is making mobile computing cool, easy and non-geeky. Apple is making it easy to put video, games, music, photographs and just about any form of entertainment in the hands of everyone, everywhere in a cheap and attractive package. In fact, if Google represents the reality of competition with every book ever published then Apple represents the reality of competition for every second of attention with EVERY form of entertainment imaginable. As a publisher and knowing that reading has consistently lost in a straight attention fight with video, music and mass forms of entertainment, that would create quite a bit of fear. As Laocoön might have out it: “Do not trust the Horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.”