A Big Boost to Books as Apps?

Perhaps inspired by Apple’s success with their iPhone App Store (which is already bringing in $1 million a day), T-Mobile has announced plans to add a similar storefront across all of their phones — reaching more than 30 million subscribers. From Silicon Alley Insider:

This fall, T-Mobile is planning to gut its current, lousy method of distributing mobile apps — favoring software companies that it has revenue-sharing deals with, according to MocoNews. In its place: An iPhone-like app store that’s organized by popularity, not payola. The platform will be open to “almost any developer” that agrees to T-Mobile’s revenue split, which one developer says is “very generous.”

Books as standalone apps (and as collections, such as Shakespeare) have already proven popular enough for Apple to add “Books” as a category. There are several important implications of this for publishers:

  • Disintermediation. This is yet another channel for individual content creators to reach an audience, and some part-time app developers are already earning a nice payday. Surely some will be vanity press material; just as surely some will not.
  • Pricing and discount structure. Right now Apple takes a 30% cut, and paid app prices are settling around tiers like $0.99, $1.99, $4.99 and $9.99 (amusing $1,000 outliers aside). The thrashing continues on this front, and consumers will be the ultimate arbiter.
  • Distribution. Publishers are rightfully wary of Amazon’s growing power, and the wireless delivery is arguably the driver behind the bullish outlook on the Kindle. The iPhone App Store and now T-Mobile are welcome competition, though carry a double-edged sword as gatekeepers controlling which content gets in front of their customers.
  • Form, not just format. Smart publishers (and as usual, I use the term loosely) will go beyond just displaying printed book content in these new devices. Digital, networked environments require rethinking how best to do the “job” of a book.

The distinctions between content and software are falling away, and smart publishers need to begin adjusting accordingly.

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