Apple's upcoming iPad includes the iBooks app, which combines e-book reader software with an iTunes-like service for selling books. I was somewhat surprised by iBooks. I had just assumed that Apple was going to let existing e-book distributors like Amazon.com and FictionWise install apps on the iPad and sell books that way. But I should not have been surprised. Why wouldn't Apple want to have its own e-book store?
The iPad is likely to suck the oxygen from e-book hardware sales. Given a choice between an e-book reader and a device that does e-books and dozens of other things, consumers will likely choose the more useful device.
Novelist Charles Stross thinks the Kindle is in trouble.
"And this thing is going to slaughter the Kindle and most of the other ebook readers on the market, even without Apple coming up with a better business model for the publishers. With Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins on board, they've just about aced the main US trade publishers — remains to be seen how smaller outfits plug into the platform, but at this point Amazon have a struggle on their hands. As iBook reads ePub format files it may be possible to add free content to it. Maybe."
Whether this is a win or loss for Amazon depends on how Amazon plays it from here out. The Amazon Kindle software already runs on the iPhone, and it will therefore run on the iPad. With the introduction of the iPad, the market for e-books is going to explode.
If Amazon stakes its future on the Kindle hardware, it's in for a world of hurt. But if it builds a business on cross-platform e-book sales, then Amazon will prosper.
Not everyone agrees that the iPad will be fatal to the Kindle. Brad Stone of the New York Times argues that the iPad is not a Kindle-killer:
"The Kindle is for book lovers, and the iPad is not.
"Sure, the Kindle’s potential market may have shrunk today, since the two-books-a-year folks will now opt for the more versatile iPad.
"But the Kindle (and other devices with E Ink screens) will continue to be the best device for lovers of long-form reading, period. (And they do love it; check the Kindle forums for the passion of Kindle owners.) The iPad’s backlit screen, higher price and more limited battery all make it a poorer choice for curling up with a novel.
"Also, there’s the distraction factor. When you read a book, you just don’t want to have e-mail, Twitter and the ESPN Web site beckoning from the browser. The absence of those services on the Kindle — sure, it’s also a flaw — actually make it better for focused leisure reading."
I'm a book-lover, and I disagree with Stone. I don't think there are enough people who agree with him to sustain e-book reader sales.
And there's one way the iPad is great for writers, readers and publishers: The iBooks store will provide an e-book alternative to Amazon's growing monopoly.
As an added bonus feature, iBooks supports the ePub standard for e-books. Macworld's Dan Frakes explains the significance of ePub support:
"Adopted by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) as an open-standards-based format for digital books, ePub allows publishers to create books in a single format for distribution to various e-book resellers and for use on any device that supports ePub. With more and more publishers and hardware vendors adopting the ePub standard, this news means it will be easier for publishers—big and small—to make their e-books available for the iPad and other e-readers.
"(Questions still remain, however: Will Apple apply FairPlay copy protection to books you purchase through the iBookstore? Will you be able to import unprotected ePub documents into the iBooks app? We’ll be working on the answers to these questions going forward.)"
This story, "Why Amazon Must Now Focus on E-Book Sales" was originally published by Computerworld.