By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
With April 3rd rapidly approaching, the buzz throughout the publishing industry is all about the iPad and more specifically the iBooks store that launches with the device. Many are talking about the iPad being a “Kindle killer” since it offers so much more functionality than Amazon’s popular device. And Apple is definitely using its position as a viable competitor to make life more difficult for Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ team have already had major showdowns on pricing with Macmillan and it looks like there will be more such confrontations with the other members of the “founding five” (the publishers who have signed up as the initial product providers for the iBooks store).
While we’re sure most publishers are happy to have an alternative to Amazon and Barnes and Noble (who are in this game too with their Nook e-reader), we think they’re missing a real opportunity when it comes to digital development. As this handy Wikipedia chart shows, there are numerous digital book readers out there and almost as many proprietary formats. The Kindle uses Mobi-Pocket, The Nook uses eReader, the Sony reader and the iPad (in a move we believe was strategic) use the e-pub format. Each of the device manufacturers are promoting platform exclusivity. That’s great for the hardware folks but doesn’t serve the interest of the content providers at all.
Can you imagine buying a book at Hudson News and finding out that it was printed in a different language than books you bought at Borders? That’s kind of what’s happening in the current e-book market. As the consumer has demonstrated time and time again when it comes to DRM, customers want to be able to view their content across multiple platforms and devices. Right now, publishers are helping create the digital equivalents of Beta and VHS videotapes. We all know how that kind of scenario turns out. One format emerges as the most popular (even if it’s not the best technology) and other formats fall by the wayside. Of course, this process yields a lot of unhappy early adapters (like all the people who own laserdisc collections). But more importantly, it empowers the manufacturer who bet on the right file format.
If the iPad fulfills the dreams of Steve Jobs and his team, e-pub will become the dominant format. Amazon will have to respond by making two different formats available on it’s site, lots of Kindle owners will become unhappy as less and less titles are released in the MobiPocket file format, and the publishers will ultimately become beholden to Apple when it comes to pricing and other issues (much like record companies defer to Apple now thanks to the popularity of iTunes). Of course, the wind could shift the other way and Amazon could build on its current 32% market share in the e-book to become an even more dominant player in the digital space. Either way, the publishers lose.
At Zemoga, we’re platform agnostic. We choose whatever programming language or digital tool works best for a project. And wherever possible, we try and use open source solutions. Not only are they usually a cheaper option, they help prevent our clients from being tied to proprietary technology, which may become outdated or evolve in a strategic direction that doesn’t serve project goals.
Publishers need to apply the same sort of philosophy in order to prevent third party control of distribution, pricing and even format and functionality. E-books now account for one in every five books sold in the US so it’s imperative that Publishers realize what’s at stake. At this point the market is still nascent enough that they could create a common file format, one that can be used by all the devices on the market. Currently, they have the stronger strategic position. Apple needs their content to make the iPad relevant. Amazon needs their help to fend off Apple’s threat to their existing markets. And Barnes and Noble and Sony want to get in the game in a much bigger way than they currently are.
Good software development starts with considering user end needs first. While empowering any new technology benefits the publishers (with new revenue streams, wider distribution, and the opportunity to create innovative interactive products) supporting proprietary formats ultimately is a disservice to customers. The epub format is currently the most widely adopted standard among e-book readers (which may be why Apple chose it for the iPad). It also has the advantage of being a free and open source standard. Publishers need to decide if that is the best format to support and if it is, strongly pressure Amazon and Barnes and Noble to support it as well.
Are you making your products and services available in as many different channels as possible? How are you making sure that your customers can access your projects wherever and whenever they want?