Apple out to destroy Amazon’s eBook market with iPad and iBooks

The modern internet junkie is the lowest of common denominators. It feeds on rumours, loves unsubstantiated ‘facts’, tires of truth, and salivates for one-eyed wisdom. I am probably one. Apple struggle on and offline against this rock-hurtling beast who incessantly protects the first to complain. Well, Amazon complained.

Their has been a lot of hissing since Amazon refused Macmillian’s demands for tiered pricing. Amazon have been scrambling to protect their eBook selling scheme. Meanwhile beleaguered publishers are doing the same to protect their cut of the dollar. The average internet reader however, sees the argument in favour of smaller green numerals. Apple’s strategy probably will cost more to consumers than Amazon’s. At first, it seems unfair. CEO Steve Jobs hinted that eBooks bought from iBooks or Amazon would be the same price. Did he lie or did he foresee something else: Amazon being forced to adopt Apple’s pricing scheme. The two ARE very similar: both allow publishers 70% of the final sale.

By proxy, this issue is reminiscent of a prior, similar struggle: the introduction of tiered pricing in the iTunes music store. After the internet’s long brush with unsanctioned downloads, iTunes became the major player for legal music downloads, mitigating losses from piracy – or so we have been told. So, when studios wanted to raise prices on music, Apple conceded very little ground (cue Ice Cube’s Thank God). They did however, adopt a tiered pricing policy whilst ridding their songs of DRM restrictions to appease the end user.

The eBook industry is new territory for Apple. They first have to enter through front door, then place their shoes in the entryway. After bowing to the office thrice, they can discuss business. Currently, eBook sales’ undisputed leader is the Amazon who through de facto leadership have been able to force pricing on publishers. The difference between the sale of eBooks and music, however, is that piracy of music was entrenched in the internet for years prior to Apple selling music; digital music sales didn’t bolster piracy. The sale of eBooks, however, buoys up piracy for the simple reason that once online, DRM or DRMless, digital books are easier to copy and distribute than hard copies.

So, as Amazon throw a fit when MacMillian demand tiered priceing; they ignore the simple fact that hitherto, every eBook sale has contributed to the format’s piracy and dissemination; they ignore the fact that the consumer has put up with deplorable end-use rights – and their role is to complain? The high prices of eBooks through any distribution channel was a mistake, but it may now be a necessary evil. If the first eBook was sold to the consumer full of users-rights at a reasonable price, piracy wouldn’t be such an issue. Instead, users were stripped of their rights from the first and by all rights, have struck back. Piracy has become a necessary method for the user to combat digital distribution which is modelled on brick-and-mortar tactics.

iBooks eBooks (wow!) will be priced with flexibility in mind, but some books will cost as much as 14.99$. There is good and bad news in there. First, 14.99$ is incredibly steep and what you get are nicely-coloured ones and zeroes with 0 ownership rights. Purchases cannot be lent, borrowed or sold. That book isn’t yours – think of it as a perennial loan.

Despite great maturity in online sales, Amazons reaction to publishers’ demands has been to pull books from their online shelves: a decision which has robbed writers. When faced with a similar dilemma in iTunes music sales, Apple didn’t pull music from the store and rob its artists. Instead, they discussed with studios and then applied changes afterward. Amazon’s arbitrary hissyfits cost money, waste time, and weaken the already feeble sales of online books in an era when the publishing business is hobbling.

Right, but at least they have the backing of the lowest common denominator.

How can Amazon who have effected so much good in the market be the same company who: pull the works of writers; whose distribution has to some extent, fueled piracy; whose current hissyfits countermine the industry?

The eBook market was never about the consumer – what market is? It has always been a horribly managed, overpriced market. And it has to change. Apple, having joined the fray are riding out a spat that was bound to happen eventually. But will they be able to shake an unfair bias from the lowest common denominator? And if they can, what will change?


Popular Sci-Fi writer, John Scalzi, is documenting his struggles with Amazon at his blog: Whatever. He is also the creative consultant Stargate: Universe, so if you don’t read, but still opine about this issue, you may at least have seen his work.

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