Earlier this month at his company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that iPad owners downloaded more than five million e-books during the months of April and May alone. Regardless of whether those e-books were free or not, that number makes it clear that Apple’s influence on the book publishing industry promises to be significant. What does this mean for book readers, writers, publishers, and on-line retailers? Plenty.
Less than six months ago, Apple entered the e-books arena when it unveiled its iPad tablet computer and its iBookstore app. In a now-famous line, Jobs announced that while Amazon has successfully pioneered the functionality of downloading and reading e-books, Apple was poised to “stand on their shoulders” as it further enhanced the overall e-book shopping and reading experience.
The first big differences noted between the Apple iPad and Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook readers: the iPad’s full-color presentation and animation capabilities, on-screen touch keyboard, and complete functionality as a fully web-enabled handheld device. A computer that also happens to be an e-book reader, the iPad excels at giving web browsers what they want (with the exception of Flash) and serves as a nifty portable gaming tool. Based on the millions of e-books already downloaded by iPad users, the device apparently also pleases many users who happen to read e-books.
There are a few hoops through which book-loving consumers have to jump to enjoy the e-reading benefits of the iPad, however.
Hoop One First, they must buy an iPad for $499 or up to $829. The least expensive versions come equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities that allow Internet access in public locations with free Wi-Fi or in a home equipped with a wireless router. Slightly pricier iPads can connect to AT&T’s wireless 3G network in many more locations. While no contract with AT&T is needed to use this service, an unlimited data plan may be purchased at a current cost of $29.99 per month, with less access available for $14.99 per month.
Some of the biggest concerns among e-book (and other potential iPad) consumers involve Apple’s choice of AT&T as the sole provider of 3G wireless connectivity for its handheld devices. Due to access issues in certain parts of the U.S. and a recent security breach that revealed 114,000 iPad users’ identities and e-mail addresses, many consumers have sworn off such products until Apple offers another 3G option.
In addition to 3G capabilities, the most expensive versions of the iPad also offer increased storage for saving considerable collections of audio or video files.
Hoops Two and Three Next, most consumers go to Apple’s iTunes Store to download the free iBookstore app and purchase iBookstore titles—once they have established the required iTunes Store account.
The iPad’s animation capabilities lend to the feel that a real book opens and a real page turns when a cover or page is tapped or a finger is swiped across the screen. The nearly 10-inch, full-color display offers a large canvas on which to view fully rendered covers and artwork as well as read text in certain colors. One’s personal bookshelf of downloaded books is displayed on bright, inviting bookshelves that can be organized by author, title, category, or other groupings. And while reading a selection, one can adjust text size, select a preferred text style, and opt to read in a vertical or horizontal page mode. Extras like bookmarking, defining words, and the ability to add annotations to a text have all been included since the iPad’s unveiling or recently added.
Although screen brightness on the iPad can be adjusted, concerns are still voiced regarding long reading sessions on a backlit screen. Book lovers who stare at a computer screen all day at work are not all that eager to subject their eyes to additional strain by reading books on anything electronic that isn’t—like the Kindle or Nook or Sony Reader—fueled by E Ink technology, even if that does mean reading in plain old black-and-white.
The weight of the iPad also discourages some who’d consider buying the device primarily as an e-reader. At a hefty 1.5 pounds, it adds considerably more to the collective weight of a briefcase or backpack than does the Kindle2 (.64 lb) or Nook (0.7 lb). Only the large-format Kindle DX compares to the iPad in overall size, screen size, and weight (1.2 pounds). While Sony readers range in weight from half a pound to about 0.8 lb, the COOL-er reader weighs in at only six ounces.
Formats and DRM One of Apple’s most significant moves was to incorporate the Adobe ePub open format into the iPad, allowing a wide variety of e-books (even those created in the Kindle format) to be downloaded and read on the device. Vendors who offer free apps in the Apple iTune store now include Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Both companies’ e-book apps, when opened, launch an external browser that takes the shopper to the appropriate storefront. The iPad’s use of the open ePub format also allows users to download and read on their device copyright-free, public domain titles offered through Project Gutenberg. According to one researcher, Project Gutenberg titles represent more than 30 percent of all books sold through the iBooks app.
Apple iBooks purchased through the iBookstore are protected by a form of DRM (digital rights management) that does not allow the copying of books to an unlimited array of non-Apple devices. iBookstore purchases can be placed, however, on up to five computers or “synced to any number of iPads.” An iBooks app for the newly unveiled iPhone OS 4 reportedly will be available later this year and will allow users to download books to all Apple handheld devices via the Internet, without the need for a USB cord. The ability of the iPad to support PDF files represents another new welcome development.
Writers Rejoice… Writers of e-books are most encouraged by Apple’s recent announcement that self-published e-books can be downloaded to the iBookstore, where they can be sold alongside titles from major publishers. Rather than going through sites such as Lulu.com or Ingram, some self-publishers can now opt to truly do it all themselves and still have a significant storefront willing to sell their wares.
Other writers enjoy creating their own books to download onto their personal iPads to be viewed and accessed via their own bookshelves. Striving to make this process as simple as putting music and videos on an iPad are Storyist and Scrivener, both of which have or are adding updates that allow writers to save their manuscripts in the ePub format for easy transfer to devices such as the iPad.
...while Publishers—and On-line Retailers—Ponder Major publishers are also witnessing a revolution when it comes to the impact of the Apple iPad. Upon unveiling the device in January of this year, Jobs discussed the controversial agency model that allows publishers and other digital content creators to set the price of the content they sell, ultimately cutting out e-retailers’ roles as pricing lords. In effect, the publisher becomes the retailer while the e-retailer becomes the publishers’ “agent.” On-line, Amazon had already upset the industry with its insistence on the under-$10 price tag for e-books, even for e-titles released alongside $24 hardcover print editions of the same book. Major publishers that have signed on with Apple’s agency model report significant increases in their e-books revenues since the device hit the market just months ago, though some conjecture that may be due to the newness of the iPad and the iBookstore app. Others, however, (like publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin) believe increased sales of books on any level—even by consumers who don’t usually read books but are intrigued enough by a new tool with e-book access to give digital reading a try—holds immense promise for long-term industry growth.
Apple’s drive toward “uniform pricing across outlets” leads one to wonder what other outlets may someday offer iBooks. As one industry watcher noted, “Apple’s digital media franchise was largely created when it released iTunes for Windows [emphasis added] back in 2003. Amazon should be very interested to see whether Apple similarly ventures off its own devices now with e-books.”