iPad book war beginning to heat up

Australian Macworld staff
23 March, 2010
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As we get nearer to 3 April, the iPad’s US release date, more information is becoming available about plans for e-books on the iPad. Apple is doing deals for its own iBooks application, while Amazon is developing its own app.

Apple signs deal with independent publisher

The New York Times is reporting that Apple has signed a deal with Perseus Books, a large independent book publisher that also distributes 330 smaller imprints like Zagat and Harvard Business School Press, to resell its books in electronic format on the iPad.

The report claims that the deal—confirmed by both Apple and Perseus—between the two companies will follow the same ‘agency’ model that is currently in use for the App Store, in which publishers set the retail price of their products and Apple keeps 30 percent of sales in the form of a commission.

This, incidentally, is also the same deal that Apple has reportedly entered into with four of the five largest publishers, at one point sparking a war of words (and deeds) between book giant MacMillian and Amazon, whose Kindle reader uses a different model that gives the Seattle company significantly more control over pricing. At some point, MacMillian’s books (of the paper variety) were actually removed from Amazon’s online catalogue, sparking outrage from a very vocal community of authors who found themselves stuck between the two sparring opponents.

Apple’s strategy could bring significant changes to the e-book market, where Amazon has so far captured more than 90 percent of the market. The iBookstore business model, in which publishers are in complete control of pricing, has been met with considerable success in an industry that has, for years, been subject to the tight controls of distributors while vying for shelf space in stores.

Some analysts have predicted that the iPad could take a big bite out of Amazon’s market share in the electronic book market, which may explain why the ‘world’s largest bookstore’ has, so far, decided to play hardball with publishers who sign up with Apple. The latter, for its part, has reportedly insisted that, as a condition for being included in the iBookstore, publishers agree not to distribute their books elsewhere at a lower price.

Amazon announce Kindle for iPad

Not to be outdone by this Apple e-book news, further to Amazon’s announcement of Kindle for Mac last week, the company has put up a page detailing its plans for Kindle on ‘tablet computers’.

The site states: “tablet computers, including the iPad, are coming and with our free app you’ll be able to read more than 450,000 Kindle books”. Of course, only a subset of these 450,000 books are available to Australian customers.

The New York Times reports that Amazon is working on apps for reading and buying e-books – but it’s not clear whether the bookstore will open within the app itself, à la Apple’s own iBooks app, or simply bring up the web-based store in the iPad\’s browser, as Amazon\’s Kindle app for the iPhone currently does.

Some have speculated whether Apple would approve the Kindle app if it allowed customers to purchase books from inside the app, or even whether they would approve it at all. However, there is at least one good reason why they should: the more content they allow onto the iPad – no matter which channel it comes from – the more appealing the iPad itself becomes for consumers.

Given that there is no clear indication from Apple whether their own iBooks app will be available at the iPad’s launch for us in Australia (whenever that might be), Kindle for iPad could be a god-send for early iPad owners who can’t wait to get reading.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

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