Why Apple has Lost the E-Book War

As I sit here writing this, it looks like Apple will be paying many millions to settle lawsuits with the various states over E-Book pricing, as well as to settle a class-action lawsuit for the same reason. These are essentially the state- and class-action versions of the same lawsuit that the Department of Justice filed against Apple and several publishers. Only Apple continues to fight that, as the publishers have all settled, both on the federal and state levels.

But this is not about the price-fixing lawsuits, but rather about the real reason Apple has lost the E-Book war. And lost it it has.

As a small publisher, publishing books via Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, Kobo Books, and even Google Play is not that difficult. But publishing via Apple? Good luck.

KDP, Nook, Kobo, and Google all let a user log into a site and upload the files for the E-Book. Fill out a couple of forms and you are done. But Apple? For Apple, you must use iTunes Producer 3.0, which requires OS X 10.8 or later. In case it’s not clear, iTunes Producer only runs on a Mac. There is no PC version.

Or you can go through an aggregator. In fact, Apple would prefer you go through an aggregator. Examples of aggregators are Smashwords and BookBaby. But they take a cut. They are middlemen. Do you want to work with a middleman or do you want to work direct? I’m computer-literate enough that I don’t feel the need to hire someone to simply upload a file and add some metadata. But the only way I can work directly with Apple is to use its software that it has not developed a PC version of and therefore I have to buy a Mac. Or borrow one, as one of their phone reps from iTunes Connect suggested. Yeah, that makes sense. Let me just borrow a friend’s Mac for a few hours every time I want to access my files at iTunes Connect.

There are hundreds of thousands of books on Amazon and many of them are self-published or published by small presses. It is a 100% free process for many of these authors, requiring nothing but a computer with a web browser.

Apple has always been seen as elitist. I’m sure that’s not a statement that anyone really needs explained. But books have always been a common denominator in modern society. Be it at the library or in school or in a used bookstore or in piles left at the curb, rare is the person who does not have some access to books. Amazon increased not only the availability of books in general but also the number of books the majority of people had access to at a low cost. You could always order a book at a brick-and-mortar store, but it would be full-price and perhaps have shipping and handling tacked on. With Amazon it seemed there wasn’t a book in print you couldn’t get at a discount and with free shipping (and often no sales tax!).

The rise of E-Books made that even more true, as the prices were often lower (even below Amazon’s cost!) and even books that were no longer available in print editions might be available as E-Books. The Kindle arguably changed the publishing business in a revolutionary way. There had been E-Book readers before it, but they were expensive and the number of available titles was small.

But the iPad was not quite as revolutionary. One might argue it was merely a bigger version of the iPhone. And readers had been using the Kindle for iPhone app for a long time already. So why would they not do the same with the iPad?

If I were a really tough business guy, I might say that Apple getting into the bookselling business was just stupid. Amazon already owned the marketplace, so why bother? I presume Apple needed content for its new tablet and books were an obvious choice, readily available, and an easy add-on to the iTunes store.

But first Apple needed deals with publishers, which brings us back to the massive lawsuits, etc. But this is not about those. This is about a big, giant roadblock that is killing the iBookstore: iContent Producer, a piece of software Apple requires you to use and for which there is no PC version.

To me, a PC user, this feels like Apple is forcing me to buy a Mac or use an aggregator when I don’t want to. In an age where Microsoft, Intuit, and Adobe are moving to software by subscription and web-based applications, Apple is telling us to download and use its application that only runs on Apple computers. This is a roadblock to thousands of small publishers, be they self-publishers or small presses.

Thousands upon thousands of authors have only published at Amazon. And they only shop at Amazon, also. Got an iPad? Just use the Kindle for iPad app to read your Kindle E-Books. Maybe if they want a song, they download it from iTunes. But books? That’s all Amazon’s turf. And Apple is not only not encroaching on it, it has put up its own wall to prevent users from getting their books into Apple’s iBookstore. Where Amazon made it free and easy, Apple has made it difficult and expensive.

And that, my friends, is why Apple has lost the E-Book war.


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