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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  • Jeff

    Regarding Joshua Topolsky’s comment. What would be better: a application that runs on the platform immediately or one that doesn’t? I’ll take the app that runs and re-write as necessary.

  • Mac Slocum

    @Jeff — Fair point. Given the sheer amount of effort that’s gone into the creation of the App Store — both on the part of Apple and the development community — it would make no sense for anyone to start at zero.

    That said, I think an emulator-esque experience needs to be acknowledged from the consumer side. It wouldn’t be fair to misrepresent a product that *technically* works with older apps.

    Within a few months I imagine much of this will be moot. The smart dev shops will crank out iPad updates.

  • Mark Atwood

    I would like to experience first hand what the “reading experience” is like on an iPad. The high rez color with video is going to be great for textbooks and “high gloss” publishing, yes. But if it makes my eyes hurt to read rivers of text, it will fail.

    My kindle was the first (and so far, only) computing/display device I’ve owned that got out of my way and “disappeared” like a book does, when I want to just sit down and read 300 pages of Just Basic Text.

  • Richard

    Technologically, that’s comparing apples to oranges

    But people aren’t going to be comparing technologies; they are going to be comparing weight, battery life, readability, et al. That is an apples to apples comparison.

  • Jared

    @Mark: The Kindle app for the iPod touch totally changed my reading habits. Before the app, I hadn’t read a book in five years. Glancing through my Kindle book collection, I have read nearly two dozen since it hit the App Store a couple months ago.

    Availability of the Kindle App, dropBox and apps that play nice with Google will determine whether I buy the iPad, or wait for Amazon and Google to join forces on a killer Android-based tablet.

  • Elisabeth

    I’d like to know if authors can self publish into the iBooks store. Will you have to go through an approved publisher?

  • Mac Slocum

    @Richard: Completely agree, which is why I included the bit about e-reader functionality.

    To extend that a bit — the comparisons between the iPad and Kindle are inevitable. The “Kindle killer” bombast is inevitable too. But if we can get past all that hoopla, I think things in the e-reader space are about to get really interesting. E-Ink has been the dominant display technology in most readers, yet now we’re going to have something that’s born from a different perspective. One that doesn’t seem concerned about eyestrain or battery life.

    I have no idea how it’ll play out, but it’ll be fun to watch!

  • Brad

    Most of my books have an animal on the cover, so I really hope O’Reilly will be jumping on the iPad bandwagon.

  • bowerbird

    wow, mac, it used to be that andrew wrote the dumber posts
    and you wrote the… “more smarter” ones…

    but andrew has been upping his game (slightly, but still),
    while you appear to have gone rusty in your absence…

    so squeeze some oil on those joints, mister tin man,
    we still need your brain!

    oh well…


    p.s. the market has already spoken. customers will pay
    $10 for e-books, and not more. watch tamblyn’s video:

    sure, people locked in to the ipad could be less disinclined
    to pay more, but resentment will eventually boil up and over.
    of course, that might take a few years, which might be all
    the time that the publishing dinosaurs ever hoped to buy,
    before they sell the back-catalogs for pennies on the dollar.
    (because, really, how much are those back-catalogs worth,
    once mr. covey establishes that old contracts don’t have the
    rights to create the digital product that the future will want?)

  • Jim

    Among the smart things David Pogue said is that anyone who thinks they know what is going to happen may end up looking foolish.

    Customer behavior, which may take some time to manifest itself, is the critical factor.

    I would imagine that smaller publishers have a real opportunity here to field early iPad “hits”. Lacking the distribution clout of the big six, and generally being a bit more nimble and imaginative, this could be a wonderful channel for them.

  • Mac Slocum

    @Bowerbird: Nice to see you too ;)

    $9.99 is a compelling price point, no doubt. Lower than $9.99 is more compelling. At the same time, though, I think there’s a sliding scale. Some material may find a market at a higher price point (*maybe* — I’m not sure $9.99 can be successfully eclipsed). Other material may need to go far lower than $9.99 to resonate.

    What won’t work is any move that tries to bolt old margins and perspectives onto the new digital model. Based on the info in the WSJ article — which is all I’ve seen thus far on Apple’s ebook pricing — this does seem like a new variation on an old theme. I’ve got my doubts about that. (Of course, I had doubts about iTunes and music, too.)

  • johny

    I still trying to understand the buzz. To expensive to be either an e-book reader or a crippled tablet. I hope is does provide multitasking otherwise it will be completely useless. What I read about how the iPhone apps will work on it looks like there is no multitasking. I’d prefer for the Nook to give full access to Andriod (which you can do by hacking it) or use something like I really prefer a dual-screen concept.

  • MonkeyT

    What I want to know is can iBooks integrate with Notes? e.g.: Can I create a link in the margin somewhat like a personal footnote to the text, then go to Notes (or spotlight search) and see all the footnotes I made to a specific text collected in one document? Can I set a bookmark in IBooks tied to a specific date in iCal (chapters due)? I expect embedded media in texts will eventually come, but how about interactive media (I want a Grapher iPad App)?

  • Scott

    I’ll still read books on my smartphone. I’m not carrying around this beast – I’ve got a light enough laptop. The reason I’m buying it is simple: multi-touch gaming. My phone can do everything else that I need.

  • bowerbird

    mac said:
    > At the same time, though, I think there’s a sliding scale.

    yeah, and that scale is going to slide to zero, eventually.

    because that’s the marginal cost for a digital good, which
    can be reproduced infinitely and distributed at no cost…

    especially when the supply of digital text is inexhaustable.
    (go ahead, try reading every blog out there; give it a shot.
    and more and more people are entering the fray every day.)

    which is why all this posturing on price is merely one big
    exercise in the arranging of the deck-chairs on the titanic.

    which is why i’ve stayed out of most of these stupid threads.

    all authors will eventually make their books available for free,
    because offering them as a _gift_ will be the _only_ way that
    you get your fans to engage in a reciprocal gift of some cash.
    and society will be a better place under this gift-exchange mode.
    in fact, this is how artists will restore _humanity_ to the planet.


  • peter

    iPad vs Kindle
    Do you really think there will be a winner?
    I don’t think so.
    Fortunately, I think, there will be a selection of two different reading behaviours for iPad and Kindle.
    IPad seems unchallengeable as a quick, multitask, multimedia reader, and Kindle (and e-ink technology) is extraordinary for long, strong, deep reading. I think these two reading behaviours will set two different markets living together.
    Plus, people who are strong readers and hi-tech fans will use both of them.

  • derek

    If I wanted to read a novel then kindle or sony with it’s e ink and compact size would be the better option. If I wanted to read non-fiction and children’s books (which constitute the bulk of the shelves in a bookshop)then the 4 colour larger display in the ipad seems the better option.
    Apart from that it comes down to price.

  • Arvind

    Nice one. There are plenty of ebook alternatives ( now, all vying to grab some meat in the space.

    I am a bit skeptical about iPad’s take off in the books market though. partly coz effects of Steve Job’s tough bargain with the music industry lingers on even today. And the point of making little money oneself, will be valid for Amazon to convince the publishers out of the deal with Apple completely.

  • statmedicus

    Backlit LCD screens in bright sunlight are useless. So it’s ipad indoors and Kindle elsewhere. However, I have to admit I’ve never handled a Kindle and so far no one has reported on taking an ipad outdoors and tried to read text.
    This link to an Australian literary editor, Jason Steger reporting about book publishers’ response to the ipad release includes a quote suggesting that book publishers are “channel agnostic” provided there is profit. The key in any negotiations is whether access to a particular channel for the publisher’s content is exclusive.

  • Buddhak0n

    This is an unbelievable opportunity for innovation.

    Somewhere, somebody, who knows maybe me lol, has to come up with a way to make the content provided over an Ipad unique to the platform.

    Simply displaying the canned websites of existing newspapers will not be the correct model.

    The CONTENT contained in the Ipad must be unique. It must present something that the consumer has not seen before.

    I realize there’s been a tremendous amount of ground work done by the publishing powers that be but there is AN UNLIMITED Possibility here.

  • Buddhak0n

    Arvind. You’re missing the point entirely.

    The key will not be the canned publishing of the great literary works of yesteryear.

    It will be the content of today. News obviously lends itself to this type of quick consumerism.

    But if you can make the content eye catching. If you can secure the eyes, Google has shown you the unlimited potential of that power.

  • Lancebastion

    I don’t understand why people are saying Kindle vs. iPad and here’s why…

    Kindle exists because Amazon wanted to get a food in the eBook door. A very big foot. There were not good, mainstream readers out there. Hence the Kindle.

    If iPad takes off (and as long as the Kindle app is allowed), then I have no problem believing Amazon would retire the Kindle. As long as you can buy their books and use them on every device and they’re the cheapest, what do they care?

  • Badstarr

    I honestly think that the lone iPhone app in the middle of the screen is a red herring. When this launches or maybe after a software update several apps will run in that currently blank space! Like nature Apple abhores a vacuum ! Think of one example of an Apple product with unutilised space ?! Nor can I ! The illusive multi tasking element will be represented via this method.

    I also think that as with Apple TV rebrand from iTV this product is going to loose the iPad name before launch due to the trademark already being registered by Fujitsu !

  • bowerbird

    here’s a publisher talking:
    > People talk about ebook prices, saying
    > the marginal cost of producing the 1000th book is 0.
    > They forget about the cost of producing the 1st.

    nothing like dumbing down your opposition, is there?

    dave, we don’t “forget” about the cost of producing “the first”.

    we spread it out over the cost of all of the copies.

    so, if 1000 copies get distributed, the cost of producing
    “the first” is borne by all 1000 copies. but of course,
    if you spread out this fixed cost of producing “the first”
    among _enough_ copies, that fixed production cost _also_
    starts to approach zero.

    also of note is that the _production_ cost is often absorbed
    as “a labor of love”. now, this is especially true in the case of
    novels, where an author has a story that is itching to be told.

    but it can also be the case with _technical_ books, which is
    the arena in which dave operates, where a person (or even
    a group of people) will amass information for their own use,
    and then — again, as a labor of love — share it with others.

    the next step in this dance has dave making the argument
    about editing, and fact-checking, and blah blah blah blah,
    but the truth of the matter is that those things too can be
    done as a matter of love, wherein they become “sunk” costs
    that simply do not _need_ to be recovered. in this manner,
    free material enters the “marketplace” and becomes a much
    more robust contender than the material that must be _sold_
    in order to achieve in distribution, such that the free material
    eventually makes it impossible for for-sale content to compete.

    and that’s why corporate publishing — even by the “small”
    corporations — will soon come to extinction, because the
    corporations exist to make money, and they will disappear
    when the possibility to make money is no longer viable…

    so if you _really_ want to “save publishing”, you will prepare
    for the day when the corporate publishing dinosaurs go extinct.

    but i have a feeling that “publishing” will be robust enough
    to take care of itself, and you won’t have to worry about it…


  • DJ

    Bowerbird, your logic is flawed. The cost per unit may approach zero as the number of units increases, but the fixed costs are still fixed.

  • Walt French

    Take a look at Charles Stross’s and Tobias Buckell’s
    for some authors’ take on the Amazon monopoly power. They seem to think that Amazon wants to be the dominant middleman between publishers and customers, setting terms for ITS advantage, and have moved pretty well down that path in part by subsidizing that $9.99 price to starve out the competition. It’s called a “loss leader,” folks, and rest assured, profit-oriented concerns do NOT give away money for no good reason.

    I’m kinda amazed to see that where Sony, B&N and others have failed to slow down Amazon’s run for world domination, Apple has at least generated a threat.

  • bowerbird

    dj said:
    > Bowerbird, your logic is flawed.

    no, it’s not.

    > The cost per unit may approach zero
    > as the number of units increases,
    > but the fixed costs are still fixed.

    and when that fixed cost is absorbed over more units,
    the _fixed_ cost per unit goes down, which means that
    publishers could be trying to increase the units moved…

    if it costs $5,000 to make the first book, and you sell 5,000,
    you’ll need to make $1/book to cover the cost of the first…

    if it costs $5,000 to make the first book, and you sell 50,000,
    you’ll need to make $.10/book to cover the cost of the first…

    but existing publishers should feel free to ignore this logic! —
    the mammals who will eat your lunch are paying close attention.


  • DJ

    Sure, fixed cost per unit varies with volume. But, no matter how many units you sell, the overall fixed cost is still fixed, and it’s still there. It doesn’t become a “labor of love” just because you sell a lot of them. From your own example, you still have to pay the initial $5K. Authors and publishers still need to get paid.

    You may argue that the PRICE of e-books should be lower because the cost per unit is lower, and I would agree with that. The real argument there is that there are no VARIABLE costs for “manufacturing” (paper, factory hours, etc.).

    Book publishers likely won’t see it that way though. They’ll argue that the book itself has a certain value in the market, and they’ll want to keep the savings from manufacturing as additional profits for as long as they can.

  • maikeru76

    What about the JooJoo? It has a bigger screen and certainly it has multi-tasking capabilities… and its going to come out earlier to stores than the IPad…

    Tablets now have a reason to exist in the gadget market… Waiting for other hardware manufacturers with their newest wares like MSI, Dell, HP and Acer…

  • RobShaver

    Imagine a world where the only works of digital art are created by those with no thought of profit. Imagine further that when you like what they create and would like to get more you would freely donate to them so that they can spend more time creating the things you like.

    This model works today in some ways. Church for example … at least the ones that don’t get you to donate out of guilt. I have contributed money to musicians to help them create their next album.

    Then there’s giving your art away in order to make money. That’s what Cory Doctorow is doing.
    “I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.”

    Another model is the gift culture embodied by Open Source software.

    I’m just saying that there are other alternatives models for distribution and alternative motives for creating.



  • Iva

    Technologicaly this gadget is a useful thing and very nice looking but i’m sure the newspapers’ owners was very sad when heard about it. Also the news from a lot of websites aren’t showing quality in it so it’s usability not the best! Good old news on paper will die just when all the people will die. This is impossible so i’m sure everybody will forgetabout this gadget soon.

  • RainyDayInterns

    We have spent quite a few hours getting to know Version 1.0 of the Apple iPad. One thing is for certain, this device is a game-changer for ePublishers.

    For more of our views, check out: