Is Apple Going to Boot eBook Apps? My Conspiracy Theory…

(image courtesy ConspiracyLOL)

I might be seeing conspiracies where there aren’t any, but I think I see a pattern in many business decisions going on in the eBook market lately. We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the outcome of the in-app purchasing drama, and so far no one’s (overtly) talking. But reading between the lines tells a very different story…

1) Apple can’t be happy with how iBooks has performed so far. 100 million books downloads is an empty number, especially since everyone who downloads iBooks gets one download to go with it. With a very low number of books in iBooks (just around 100,000, versus 2 million+ in Amazon and B&N), iBooks is, to be blunt, a fart in the wind for ebooks.

(The between the lines translation: Apple made a big deal about iBooks, acted like they were going to change publishing, and basically failed. They can’t be happy about that, and they don’t want to lose more content buyers to Amazon and B&N.)

2) Amazon has announced AT&T is going to be carrying Kindles in their stores.

(TBTLT: Amazon is looking for anyplace to get Kindles into people’s hands. Stocking the Kindle alongside the iPad that might not be offering a Kindle app softens the blow.)

3) B&N has been experimenting with selling NOOKcolors for $199 on ebay.

(TBTLT: Either B&N has a huge surplus, or they’re trying to determine if there’s enough volume in sales at $199 to overcome the $50 price drop. But a NOOKcolor at $199 suddenly looks a lot more attractive than most of the tablet competition, even if you aren’t going to root it. And if they can’t rely on the iPad to provide a great NOOK/NOOKkids experience, dropping the price makes the NOOKcolor more accessible as an alternative.)

4) Random House goes agency, joins iBooks.

(TBTLT: Random House never said they would never go agency, just that they were waiting to see what happened. It’s possible this timing is coincidental and simply lines up with the iPad 2. But iBooks isn’t going to be a major player, even with Random House’s 17,000 ebook additions…unless it’s the only bookstore standing. In that case, if Random House wants to sell books on the iPad, they need to go agency to join iBooks. Just saying…)

5) No one is saying this isn’t happening.

(TBTLT: I reached out to reps from a few ebook stores, and the silence is deafening and damning. Kobo redirected me to their blog post from the other day, which is basically summed up as “Hey, good, it’s business as usual. We have no idea how long that will last.” B&N…hasn’t answered yet. My hope is that it’s nothing, but my fear is that if they were sure about their iOS future they’d be screaming it from the rooftops. So why isn’t anyone out there saying it’s going to be ok? Maybe because it isn’t.)

As I said, I could be jumping at shadows…but none of this is outside the realm of possibility. And all of these, from Random House to Amazon and AT&T, are normal business decisions on the surface. But if some sort of ebookpocalypse hits, all these moves also serve to support and/or further the interests of each company in a world where iBooks is it for iOS. So am I being paranoid? Or are we seeing the beginning moves on a chess board that’s going to radically alter the ebook market as we know it?

Categories: eBooks, Editorials

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5 replies

  1. Mmm.

    So publishers discover there’s another market out there that doesn’t require paying huge commissions and adhering to in-app rules.

    And consumers discover that there are a lot of ways to read things without needing to own an i-Device.

    I’d call that a win-win (unlesss you’re a fanboi of course).

    Herein lies the key:

    “Apple can’t be happy with how iBooks has performed so far”.

    It’s odd how people rail about Murdoch and other corporations trying to corner a market, while it’s OK for Apple to dictate terms.

    If you don’t own an i-device I can’t see the down side. And if you do then don’t forget Apple has thought its known best in the past and has been wrong.

    • Even if you don’t own an i-Device this matters because it cuts out a HUGE chunk of most ebook provider’s audiences. Amazon and B&N are well established, so while it might be rocky they’ll find a way to make it work. And the rise of Android tablets this year will help everyone.

      But if you’re Kobo, you’re getting two nasty blows in a row; first Borders goes down in flames, and if Apple boots them then they’ve lost both their physical bookstore presence and their best tablet bet. It’s not a good time to be them.

      And going beyond ebooks, the in-app system is going to hurt Pandora, Rhapsody, etc…and while yes, most strong companies will be ok, it’s still a slow process getting more Android tablets out there.

      Plus there’s the risk that many consumers shrug and move on, rather than jump platforms. It might be (very) good for Android fans since there’s a good shot we might see a features/price war to lock in the users on alternate platforms, but it also means the companies developing for ebooks, and streaming music, and periodicals are working with a halved user base. They’ll need to not only compete for more attention from less eyeballs but also find a way to get revenue that way.

      So while I won’t be personally impacted (I am all Android) it will impact the companies I enjoy doing business with, and therefore it will impact me in some way as well. Whether that’s positive or negative remains to be seen.

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  4. Of course there’s also the possibility that Android tablets won’t take off. So far their start has been bumpy. ANd now Smsung is making comments about their “failuers with the Tab 10.1” and it isn’t even out yet! If they don’t take off and the iPad remains king of the tabs, then where does that leave the big eBook players? Yes B&N and Amazon have devices, but I have to believe that sales to iPad owners makes up a helathy chunk of their sales too so this will definitely hurt them.