The iPad and publishers: A survey of early reaction

What really jumped out to me as I looked over the iPad’s feature set is that the device is clearly built for media consumption. Movies, music, books, news — the bread and butter content that keeps iTunes humming. That’s good for Apple, obviously, but it also creates an interesting opportunity for publishers. They’ve got a new distribution mechanism and a new canvas.


With that in mind, I decided to filter the barrage of iPad coverage through a publishing lens. What follows are intriguing ideas culled from all sorts of sources. Most revolve around content applications the iPad may provide.

There’s no way I’ll catch all the good stuff — there’s just too much out there — so please use the comments area to post links and commentary that grab your attention, publishing-related and otherwise.

Ebook pricing could get interesting

The iPad’s release portends a price-point battle between Apple and Amazon. That’s ebook pricing, not hardware.

The Wall Street Journal says Apple is pushing book publishers to set two ebook price points, $12.99 and $14.99, with Apple taking its customary 30 percent cut from any sales. They key word in all this is “set.” The big kahuna of ebooks, Amazon, controls its pricing. Most bestsellers are parked at $9.99, which is below what Amazon pays a publisher for a title. Amazon is subsidizing its low price point.

But that’s the present. The future is a different matter. The thought is that Amazon is taking a short-term loss on ebooks so it can solidify its position as the dominant channel. Once it owns the ebook market, Amazon can ditch the subsidy and force publishers to renegotiate pricing.

That’s the fear, and Apple appears to be playing to it by giving publishers an option: get a measure of pricing control through Apple, or make more with Amazon but pray they don’t rewrite the rules later. (Apple could always rewrite rules, too …)

Update 1/31: Macmillan fired the first shot across Amazon’s bow, which led to Amazon pulling Macmillan titles. Amazon has since backed down and reluctantly agreed to Macmillan’s terms. The Wall Street Journal puts the disagreement in context:

It is expected that publishers will now seek to do business with Amazon and other e-book retailers on the same terms as with Apple. By setting their own prices, publishers would be able to eliminate discounting on Amazon and elsewhere that they believe threatens the long-term business model of publishing.

What’s really interesting about this — and kind of bizarre — is that the binary Apple-or-Amazon thinking obscures an important point: mobile devices already offer publishers plenty of pricing options.

What about e-reader applications?

Steve Jobs famously quipped a couple of years ago that “people don’t read anymore.” Well, I guess Apple changed its stance on that one. The new iBooks app — and accompanying store — is a big ol’ cannonball in the ebook pool.

Early discussion on a back-channel publishing list I follow has focused on how Apple will treat its new ebook competitors. Will established applications, like Stanza and the Kindle app, be removed? Kirk Biglione, co-founder of Medialoper, thinks competitors will remain in Apple’s universe. Just don’t count on sharing titles across apps:

Look for books to be added as a new media type in the device media library. The other reading apps may be able to co-exist as long as they don’t access books stored in that library. So, for example, you probably won’t be able to use Stanza to read iBooks. [Note: Kirk gave me permission to post his comments.]

One thing to consider here: Past inquiries from the Federal Communications Commission may soften Apple’s competitive instincts. At least for a while.

Of course, FCC heat doesn’t preclude Apple from a little friendly rivalry. Digital Trends picked up on the backhanded compliment Jobs gave Amazon during the iPad presentation:

… [Jobs] basically told the online retailer that we’ll take it from here.

The reading/viewing experience

Apple has already shown what it’s capable of on the music and video front, so I’m curious to see how it handles the book experience. Early word is positive from folks who tested the iPad. Here’s Gizmodo’s take:

It’s an optical illusion, but just seeing the depth of pages makes the iBook app feel more like a book than a Kindle ever did for me. The text is sharp, and while the screen is bright, it doesn’t seem to strains the eyes—but time will tell on that.

Speaking of the Kindle

David Pogue, New York Times tech columnist and Missing Manual author, noted that the iPad is more responsive than Amazon’s e-reader. Technologically, that’s comparing apples to oranges since the devices have different architectures. But it’s relevant if you’re judging e-reader functionality. In a broader-view piece, John Gruber said speed is the iPad’s defining characteristic. You can get a sense of the iPad’s response rate in this TechCrunch video.

The iPad is backwards compatible with existing iPhone applications. That’s useful if you’ve invested in buying apps or creating them. However, Joshua Topolsky of Engadget called out a display issue those “old” apps create:

It’s kind of silly looking. A lone app in the center of a black screen.

More to come

I’ll be adding to this post in the coming days as more analysis bubbles up. Again, please use the comments to point out interesting or informative links you come across as well.

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