Category Archives: Apple

8

Censor censure

I’ve been on a bit of a Words With Friends kick lately (okay, more a debilitating obsession than a kick but no one’s kicked me off a plane yet) and one of the frustrating things I’ve found about the game is how it censors what it considers unacceptable words. Not sure what geniuses (or algorithms) decide what works and what doesn’t but when you’re behind by 15 points and you’ve got the letters to wipe your opponent out with a word you know is a word but that WWF won’t allow…well, it makes you a little short tempered.

Thing is, censorship is all around us and, by and large, we tend to overlook minor instances of it as long as the big freedoms aren’t compromised.   I can shake my head and keep playing WWF, say, because who cares about a silly app game.  But, is that the right attitude?  When you hear about Seth Godin’s experience with Apple refusing to carry one of his “manifestos” because there are links in it to the Amazon store, the whole Big Brother thing becomes a bit sinister.  This is censorship seasoned with monopolistic bullying, in my opinion.

How much freedom of speech can be guaranteed when behemoths like Apple and Amazon censor what is available to consumers for any reason other than that the work(s) in question poses a real physical threat to individuals?  Sure, a privately owned retailer may choose what goods and services it wants to offer, but when you have two or three entities responsible for the dissemination of vast amounts of information, it seems to me that it should not be morally, ethically, or legally okay for those entities to decide what consumers may or may not be able to buy.

Those of us in the publishing business have a rather bedeviled relationship with Apple, Amazon and B&N (especially the first two).  On the one hand, we need them in order to place our authors’ wares.  On the other, we are increasingly concerned with the practices of these soulless corporations whose only interest is the financial bottom line and for whom books and the entire publishing world are but a blip in their massive spreadsheets.  Is it time for the government to step in and regulate how content is served up?  What can we do as consumers (and book lovers) to safeguard our ability to buy any book (or story or manifesto) we want?  Should we be outraged or should we shrug our shoulders and lump this with the Word With Friends shenanigans?

What’s your take on all of this?  Am I over- or under-reacting?

5

World domination

When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination.  Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).

Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on.  Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas.   On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway.  On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business.  I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.

Is it as dire as all that?  Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers?  Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?

7

It’s not a bestseller if no one bought it

by Michael

It seems that Amazon finally caught on to the fact that the top 10 books on the Kindle Bestseller list were all free books—they’re now creating two lists, one for paid books, and one for free books. As the LA Times Jacket Copy blog notes, at the very least, the “bestseller” label won’t be a misnomer any longer.

This is also as it should be. Comparing the downloads of free books to the download of paid books never made much sense—the whole point of making the book free is to entice people who aren’t willing to pay for the work in the first place. Without payment, it’s not a sale, it’s a gift. Including both paid and free books on the list is comparing apples to oranges, and I’m glad they’re making the distinction—as Apple does in their App and iBook stores. With more than half the books on the Kindle Bestseller list being free, it’s going to be interesting to see which books now appear in the paid list.

With more information about the paid books, I’m curious to see how pricing affects sales. We know that free books are frequently downloaded, but is there a big different between $12.99 and $9.99? Or $9.99 and $4.99? A quick look at the iBookstore bestsellers shows only 7 books under $9.99 in the top 50, and those books are not new and priced to move, but rather backlist titles available in mass market formats. But the titles in the iBookstore are much more limited, so it’s hard to really draw conclusions.

So what do you think? Was it a good idea to divide the lists? Or did lumping free and paid ebooks onto the same list tell us something important?

Publish or perish

by Jane

With all of the sturm und drang going on in the publishing business over the last few months with regard to Amazon, Apple and Google, there is an enormous amount of confusion—understandably.

I found this article in this week’s New Yorker to be quite enlightening. Even if it will “date” quickly because of the speed at which things are changing, I highly recommend that all published and unpublished writers read it. There is much to learn and absorb here.

I would be interested in hearing what you think.

8

Epocalypse now!

by Michael

April 1, 2010, marks not just April Fools’ Day (quite possibly my least favorite day of the year, in close contention with Halloween and New Year’s Eve), but also the day that the “Agency 5” switch to the agency model (see my last post for more on this). I think most of us knew the transition wouldn’t be smooth, as entirely changing your business model in, oh, three months, isn’t exactly easy. And indeed, there are some hiccups along the way, with Hachette Kindle books temporarily missing, and Penguin unable to close a deal with Amazon (we received an email from Peguin regarding the issue this morning). There’s still some tension between Amazon and publishers, as evidenced by the response from Amazon regarding the missing Hachette titles, and there will be more carefully worded missives publicly traded in the days to come.

Amazon can’t be happy with the iPad reviews that rolled in last night, either, because in several of them (great round up here at Gizmodo), the reviewers mentioned that they preferred the iBooks reading experience to that of the Kindle. I am officially excited for Saturday.

Does Random House know something we don’t?

by Michael

April 3 is right around the corner! For those of you who don’t pay attention to, well, any form of media, that’s the day that Apple’s iPad finally hits the stores. And, being the nerd that I am, I have to say I’m pretty excited. I love product launches, and Apple does them like no other. (I was very disappointed by the lack of excitement surrounding the launch of the Palm Pre when I went to purchase it on day one last year, but I digress.) I think our readers know how this relates to books, but in case you don’t, Apple is launching their iBookstore that day, as well. They’ll be offering books from all the major publishers, with one huge exception: Random House. When Steve Jobs announced the iPad back in January, he said that 5 of the 6 biggest publishers were onboard for the iBookstore. The absence of Random House was conspicuous, but they released a statement afterwards saying that they were working on an agreement with Apple. I’d assumed there’d be one in place by this point, but it looks like the iBookstore could very well launch without the largest trade publisher on board, as reported by the Financial Times. Honestly, I was really surprised. Until last week.

That’s when this article popped up on an iPhone fansite. It purported to show the working iBookstore, along with the prices. And the price for 27 of the 32 listed bestsellers that day? $9.99. The same price that publishers have been fighting against in the Kindle bookstore. I was thrown for a loop. The reasoning behind the to switch to the agency model was to take control of pricing and get rid of the expectation that ebooks cost $9.99. But here we were at that price again. Then, only two days later, a new screenshot showing most (but not all) of the bestsellers at $12.99. Color me confused. This pricing kerfuffle brought to mind this New York Times piece about publisher agreements with Apple. The piece suggests that Apple wanted the flexibility to drop prices for hot books that would be majorly discounted in print. As of today, it’s not at all clear what iBookstore pricing will be on April 3.

Thinking about the possibility of an ebook sold at $9.99 is troubling. In the agency model, retailers act as an “agent,” selling books at prices determined by publishers and collecting a percentage of each sale (30% in most cases). Authors are generally being offered a percentage of the net income from these sales—publishers are pushing for this to be 25%, so we’ll roll with that number for the purposes of this argument. In the agency model, with a book priced at $9.99, authors will earn $2.50 per book or less. Compared to the $3.75 they currently earn on a $25 hardcover (15% of list price), this is a dramatic reduction. Comparing this amount to what authors would earn under the current ebook market conditions is nearly as depressing. In the current sales scheme (the consignment model), a retailer is buying the book for about a 50% discount, then selling it at whatever price they like. Assuming the same $25 price list price for the ebook (which is pretty standard) and same 25% royalty for electronic books, the author receives a royalty of $3.13. (The question of why they would receive less than they do on the hardcover in this situation could be a blog post in itself.) If ebooks eventually make up 50% of the market (a number I believe is possible), that royalty arrangement will radically alter author compensation. That, obviously, concerns me. I’d really like to hear more directly and transparently from publishers on this issue. What effect will these arrangements with Apple and Amazon have on authors? It seems, from the Financial Times piece, that Random House may soon be having these conversations. But what about the other 5? Is it wrong of me to expect a little more openness? This makes me all the more impressed with John Sargent at Macmillan and his willingness to blog about their plans, admitting what they do and don’t know.

So, is there something in the Apple agreement that we don’t know about that Random House does? Or is it just, as Mike Shatzkin thinks, that Random House is trying to maximize their profits in the short term with the idea that they can jump on the bandwagon if the iBookstore takes off? We’re going to learn a lot more about all of this in the coming days.

On April 3, I’ll be picking up an iPad for myself (no willpower!), downloading the iBookstore, and most definitely tweeting about the experience. If I have important publishing observations, I’ll post them here, too. Looking forward to hearing what you all think about this.

12

The truth about "open"

by Michael

One of my favorite websites, Gizmodo, has a great piece up about e-book interoperability. As they point out, what Steve Jobs meant when he said “open” isn’t exactly what you and I might think of as open. The short story is that iBooks books will only work on the iPad (and I’m guessing the iPhone and Macs, at least eventually), just as Kindle books only work on the Kindle. That certainly isn’t my idea of open. And it’s not great for publishing, either, when people can’t take the books they think they’ve bought with them. It’s not the expectation, and I fear it encourages piracy. What do you think?

3

E-books: New and improved?

by Chasya

It’s been speculated by some in the publishing industry that enhanced e-books are most certainly the wave of the publishing future. Some will argue that with standard e-books not even completely off the ground, this is misguided, while others will say that such a product would be a completely new medium and not a book at all.

Whichever camp you happen to be in, some interesting developments were just announced on the multimedia front. PW reports that Vook, the video book company, has developed new software called MotherVook that will allow publishers to create their own media-enhanced e-books.

Is this one small step for publishing-kind? Though the details haven’t all been worked out, I’m interested to see how this takes off in our ever-changing landscape. I’m one of those who believe that media-enhanced books are more likely to happen then not. So now, particularly on the eve of the Apple tablet unveiling, will publishers take advantage of this software to create hyperlinked, video and music enhanced editions of what, until recently, has always been an ink and paper medium? And if this MotherVook software does take off in the market, will enhanced e-books make books better? It’s gotten me thinking, do I want a book that comes tricked-out with extras?

5

Has Amazon met its match?

by Michael

There were two big announcements out of Amazon this week, both Kindle related. The first was that they are offering a new royalty structure for Kindle books: 70% of the price (minus a small delivery fee). But there’s always a catch, and in this case, several catches, including: the price must be between $2.99 and $9.99, must be lower than the hard copy price by at least 20%, and text-to-speech and other experimental features would have to be enabled.

The second and perhaps more surprising announcement is the release of a software development kit (SDK) for the Kindle, allowing developers to write applications for the device. What kinds of things programmers will do for the limited device, I’m not sure.

So what’s prompted all of this? Apple. The impending announcement of their tablet computer next week has everyone on pins and needles, and it surely has Amazon rethinking their own business model in order to stay competitive. I’m not convinced that the Apple device will be the publishing or world cure-all some anticipate, but if they can do for the tablet what they did for the smartphone (make a high-end, niche device a popular consumer product), Amazon–and everyone else–better watch out.