Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Amazon Kindle - Winning the Content War?

We received an email this week from our Apple content distributor. Here it is:

As the demand to get content distributed and sold on Apple's iBookstore continues to grow, [distributor] is striving to meet our publisher partners' needs in the most efficient manner possible. In order to help plan and meet expectations, we'd like to ask your assistance. Please e-mail the number of titles that your company plans to distribute to Apple for the remainder of the 2011 calendar year to [someone's email address].

Is this true? Unlikely. It is more likely that Apple are pushing their distributors for sales forecasts, to test the impact on the market of their decision to prevent app developers from selling content direct to the actual person who owns the iPad outright and should be able to do whatever the hell they want with it.

Here is our reply:

In response to the email I received asking for [distributor] projections, I would like to say that I will be publishing 8 books between now and the end of the year, however I am supporting the Amazon Kindle platform as a priority because of the unexpected and unnecessary cost and complexity of supporting iBooks.

Specifically, I went to great lengths to ensure that my first iBook was fully compliant with the epub standard, only to find that Apple themselves don't comply with it, so I had to pay for [distributor] to make the conversion, and your technical people couldn't actually tell me what was wrong with the original, so I have no chance of correcting these errors myself, of which I am capable given the right information. So Apple have enforced a standard that they don't comply with, and they guard the information that is required for me to fix the problem, and I am not prepared to pay to have you convert every book for me when the conversion process for Kindle is quick, easy and reliable.

Please do pass this on, because I'm sure I'm not the only publisher with this problem. 

Cast your mind back a few years... What killed off Betamax in favour of the technically inferior VHS? Content. The studios licensed their content to the consortium of VHS developers, not Sony's Betamax. People couldn't get films, so they didn't buy the machines. Sony learned quickly, and bought Columbia Pictures so that they would never be denied content again.

Random House recently announced that they are putting their entire catalogue of 17,000 books onto the iPad. But for any publishers who don't deal direct with Apple, the Kindle is a much easier and more reliable option. Will this fragment the market? Or will it polarise the market into serious readers who will see the Kindle as a clear winner, or people who primarily want to play games and waste time on Facebook, and dip into the odd ebook here and there, who will go for tablet PCs. Note: Tablet PCs, not necessarily the iPad.

About 20 years ago, the mobile phone companies realised that whoever owned the device in your hand owned what you saw and heard. But wireless Internet is moving the goalposts again. That device could be any one of a number of things, from your phone to your tablet PC, even your television. This favours the content distributors.

Apple have played a very risky strategy; giving content and app development over to third parties, and then trying to control them with restrictive, unfavourable contract terms, based on the belief that Apple owns the world, therefore the developers have no choice but to comply. You want to sell your products? You have to play by Apple's rules, because they control the market.

Except, they don't.

They have scored some early wins by getting customers to fall in love with their products, but this will absolutely not last forever. How do we know?

When Ford's iconic XR3i ruled the suburban backstreets, every product had an 'i' on the end of its name.

When Sony's Walkman ruled the subways and classrooms, every product had 'man' on the end of its name.

When McDonalds ruled the world of crap jobs, every crap job became a McJob.

When Yahoo became My Yahoo, every website became 'My' website.

When the Internet came into the home, every tenuously related product had an "e" at the beginning of its name.

When Apple's iPod took the Walkman's crown, every product had an 'i' at the beginning of its name.

Apple is tightening its grip on the market. And what can you expect to happen next? The tighter Apple squeezes, the more of that market will slip through its fingers.

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