Thursday, February 24, 2011

So it's war: eBook stores vs. Apple

I just got wind of a war that has apparently been brewing all month, between the ebook stores (starting with Sony) and Apple.

Apparently, it started when Apple rejected Sony's ebook reader app, on the grounds that Apple has now decided to disallow any apps that allow customers to make or view purchases that Apple didn't get a piece of.  In other words, unless they get their cut on all ebook purchases made from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc., they aren't going to allow those ebook stores' apps anymore.  According to a thread on the B&N forums, Apple is going to remove the offending ebook reader apps from the App Store, including the Nook app and the Kindle app, on July 1st.

It seems that Apple is becoming a bit overreaching.  They 30 percent commission that they are demanding on all ebooks sold through ebook store apps would eliminate the ebook stores' profit margin, since 30 percent is what they get from the publishers for selling their books.  No way are they going to agree to giving up all their profits to Apple, yet that's what Apple is demanding — and, according to Sony, they have been unwilling to work with the ebook stores for a different arrangement.

On another, but similar, note: Apple has even reportedly designed their iBooks software to detect if a device has been jailbroken, and to lock the consumer out of their entire iBooks library until it's fixed. 

This stinks of monopoly, and reminds me of why my dad hated Apple when I was growing up.  Moves like this in the '70s and '80s severely limited how many people used their computers, since nothing was compatible; it was, in my opinion, devices such as the iPod (and, later, the iPhone and iPad) that saved them.  But as this article notes, ebook reading is one of the iPad's selling points, so a move like this one may hurt their sales.  Is Apple returning to the same narrow thinking that they had when I was a kid?

Sony is fighting back, though, by announcing that they are considering pulling their music from iTunes entirely.  I don't know what Barnes & Noble and Amazon are doing, but I rather doubt they'll stand for this.  My concerns are:

* Will I still be able to use my Nook app, or is Apple going to remove it from my iPhone entirely?

If they perform the "hand of God" act of removing the app from my phone completely, I will be PISSED.  That's exactly what Amazon did a while back when they reached into customers' Kindles and removed 1984, and it pissed people off then, too.  We'll see if Apple is actually willing to go that far, or if they will let those of us who already have the apps continue to use them.

* Will I be able to use another ebook reader app to read my B&N ebooks?

I've already checked on this, and the answer is, YES.  Bluefire Reader allows you to read B&N ebooks, even the encrypted ones.  Obviously, it's more work than using the Nook app, because you have to download the ebook file on your computer and then transfer it to your iPhone, just as you would with a library ebook.  You also have to enter your name and the credit card number on your account when you open the book the first time, as that's how it's encrypted.  But in my opinion, it's worth it to continue reading ebooks on Apple devices if this goes down the way Apple is threatening.  Besides, Bluefire is actually a better reader than the Nook app: It's faster, crashes less often, and has more features to offer.

I don't think Bluefire will be affected by this new decision of Amazon's, since it seems like they are only blocking the ebook sellers' apps.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, but as long as I can continue to read my ebooks through Bluefire — even if it's not as convenient — I'm content!  Of course, it may have an impact on my choice when it's time to replace my phone, since I won't support Apple with my next phone purchase if they ruin this for me.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Interesting information. I hope the ebook industry gets all this sorted out. The devices make money when people buy them, and people buy them because they support the apps they like. The electronic publishers should get a cut of the books sales because they are providing the venue, and the authors should also get a cut because they wrote the books. If the device manufacturers start horning in on additional profits, the authors will suffer, and most of us are already dirt poor.

Katharine Swan said...

Hey NM. I have to say I disagree. I don't think Apple is entitled to a cut of every ebook sold on the iPhone just because they designed the equipment. Do they get a cut of a CD you buy at B&N simply because you load it into iTunes when you get home? Or if you download a song from Amazon and then load it into iTunes? Of course not.

Apple is getting greedy, but if they aren't careful, it's going to backfire on them. I can remember when I was a kid and hardly anyone had Apple computers, because of the compatibility issues. The same thing is going to happen with phones and tablets, if they keep coming up with all these restrictions that their competitors don't have.