Well you can’t buy a device, there are no e-books on sale through the app store and it was only announced three days ago but as predicted Apple’s iPad has already shaken up digital publishing.
On Friday Amazon removed all books by publisher Macmillan – physical and digital – in a move industry insiders say is the culmination of an ongoing dispute over the price the retailing giant was charging customers for e-books on the Kindle. Macmillan wanted to set its own price (around $15) for e-books but Amazon had them locked in at a maximum of $9.99. That disagreement means you can’t currently buy any books from one of the world’s biggest publishers directly from Amazon.
Funnily enough Macmillan is one of the big publishers signing up to the Apple e-book store right from the start. And what’s the price Apple is letting Macmillan charge for an e-book? The magical $15.
While the New York Times rightly says there may be some anti-trust issues if Macmillan’s books went on sale through one of the stores and not the other, there’s still a bit over a month before Apple’s e-book store opens for business. My guess is that it’s Macmillan flexing its muscle now there’s another giant player in the market. Plenty of time for further negotiations.
I’m even more convinced now that the iPad as an e-book reader is a fifth order issue when it comes to digital publishing. All the uber-geeks are complaining because it doesn’t do this or it doesn’t do that. But this device is not designed to replace your laptop. It’s a device to let you consume digital media easily. And it does that well. I’m sure it will make a very good e-book reader but we’ve got plenty of them already.
While it could be months (or years) before Australians will be able to buy e-books from Apple, the impact across the digital publishing industry is likely to be felt much sooner.
The good news is that the newly announced Apple iPad is a much more exciting device in terms of what it brings to the e-book game than it is an an overall computing device. In general terms it’s just an over-sized iPhone that has a few new peripherals (like a keyboard – hooray). But it still doesn’t support Flash and Apple has decided wanting a device that is capable of multi-tasking is just too 1980s.
But the interesting news is what it means for the e-book market.
The iPad introduces a new app called iBooks which links with a dedicated e-bookstore called iBookstore (enough with the “i”s already). It supports ePub as its native format! Apple adopting an industry standard is almost unheard of and it will be interesting to see if Apple allows access to ePub books bought for Stanza (or someone adds this functionality through a hack). They already have in place agreements with major publishers such as Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette.
But the device is not the issue – Apple entering the e-book trade is. These developments – support for e-Pub and Apple having a dedicated e-bookstore will mean a lot for the business. If only we could convince them to open the store up to non-Apple devices.
What it will mean for the Kindle, who knows at this stage. But it’s 2.5 times heavier, thicker and larger, has a shorter battery life and there’s still that backlit LCD screen. I don’t think it’s a Kindle-killer. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a big leap for e-publishing.
Last month I headed to Bribie Island for an extended weekend of writing, relaxing, chatting with friends and a few drinks. I took three print books with me and loaded a few files onto my first generation iPod touch to test it out as an e-book reader.
Stanza is deceptively easy to use. Put the iPod on its side and you get a landscape reading screen. To “turn” the page you simply tap the right or left side of the screen, depending on whether you want to go forward or back. To change the font size you put two fingers on the screen and pinch or push apart your fingers depending on whether you want it bigger or smaller. Unlike the iPod’s photo interface this was a bit buggy but it wasn’t too much of an annoyance given it’s something you really only have to do once and then forget (adjusted for declining eyesight over the years, of course).
I read a bit of the Orwell book and then got stuck into the Doctorow essays. These were a great choice – engaging and relatively short. Coming in at 115 grams, my iPod weighs about a third of a standard paperback (350 grams or 12 ounces), so holding it is no problem. You can turn the brightness right up if you’re outdoors or turn it down, which was my preference, indoors. That saved on battery power and made reading the screen pretty easy on the eye.
The verdict? As an e-book reader, the iPod touch mostly works. It’s light and puts very little strain on the eye thanks to its good brightness control and the crispness of the text. I think it was lucky I was reading non fiction that had no dialogue and infrequent paragraph breaks. The page in the photo has 109 words on it but a dialogue heavy page of Lee Battersby’s“Alchymical Romance” has just over 80 words. To put it in context – that’s about three paragraphs of a well written newspaper article and I think I’d get annoyed having to tap the screen every 10 seconds or so. But maybe that’s me.
Unlike some people I’m not ready to declare the iPod (or any smart phone) theconvergence device. I think we’ll end up converging on two types of devices that share similar functions but mych different sizes. But more on that another time. As an ultraportable e-book reader, it works.