Digital content providers team up to fight piracy

Picture 4Amazon, Apple, Myspace, Spotify, and a couple other digital content providers have grouped up to form Music Matters, an organization aimed at turning pirates into paying customers. I hate to criticize this movement because I definitely think it’s important to support the artists you love, but it’s just so hard to take the companies that hawk those digital wares too seriously. If Jack White were imploring me to please buy his albums I would be much more inclined to do it (except that Deadweather album, ugh).

The best part of the organization is a stamp that participating sites can post to remind customers that the site will pay the artists for the music you purchase. Oh wait, they’re required by law to pay artists whose music the sites have sold.

The site tries to grab your indie nerve with that pencil script seen on the cover of every Michael Cera movie. You can watch custom videos from a few bands as well. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure why the site exists.

Music Matters

Amazon unveils Kindle Apps for Tablet Computers (including the iPad)

Amazon Kindle App for Tablet Computers.I almost laughed out loud when I saw the diminutive text that accompanied Amazon’s new Kindle Apps for Tablet Computers. It reads “Including the iPad,” in a tiny, scrunched up font. Funny content wars aside, the new app looks pretty great, and it gives us a look at the full color future of digital books from Amazon.

The new app include fancy features like page turn animations and adjustable backgrounds while holding onto the Amazon Whispersync technology to keep your reading experience up to date across multiple devices. While this may be the future of reading with Amazon, it makes me wonder where the future of the company’s hardware lies. I still can’t imagine a world in which Amazon wanted to get into the hardware business for just a couple years, but maybe it did. It’s still the largest online retailer, and content distribution is really a nice business. Just ask Apple.

If the future of the Kindle brand lies in apps across all platforms, though, Amazon would do well not to piss off so many publishers. All the work Amazon has done to this point will be null if readers can’t get the books they want in the Kindle store.

Amazon tries to stay competitive with Apple, will need a new device

Steve Jobs in a chair with the iPad.The day Apple announced the iPad, Amazon was calling newspapers and publishers before Steve Jobs had even left the stage. As the New York Times’ Bits blog has it, Amazon wanted to hear what Apple had offered. Amazon had been trying for more than a month to sign deals with publishers that would give Amazon customers the best prices anywhere, either by matching or beating the prices given to other dealers.

Amazon tried to sweeten the deal by offering publishers bigger revenues than in the past. Unfortunately, Apple was willing to budge on a much larger issue: price. With Apple, publishers had a bit more flexibility than Amazon would give, which in turn gave publishers bargaining power over Amazon. See, Amazon will do just about anything to stay competitive with Apple.

In fairness to Amazon, it’s not like publishers want to upset that distribution channel. Amazon pretty much pioneered the ebook scene – it certainly made ebooks as popular as they were likely to become before some sort of wonder device came along – which leaves publishers keen to cater to the existing subscribers in Amazon’s marketplace until either the iPad gains enough ground or Amazon releases a new reader.

That last point is very important. If Amazon doesn’t release a new reader within the next year or so, it will pigeonhole itself into becoming solely a content provider, a position I wouldn’t think Bezos wants to be in considering he started the Kindle. Rarely would a company of Amazon’s scale introduce a middling product only to do away with it in a couple years.

Source: Bits

Kindle heads to Blackberry

Blackberry gets Kindle.Amazon is starting to see the writing on the wall, it seems. There isn’t a compelling reason for people to buy a Kindle anymore. Other ereaders offer the same price on books with more features and the latest wave of tablet PCs make the hardware look obsolete. So what does Bezos do? He releases a Kindle app for yet another piece of hardware: the Blackberry.

Amazon recently opened the floodgates with Kindle support for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Windows machines. Today we get Blackberry support and the company says it’s headed for Macs and iPads next. If that doesn’t sound like admitted defeat, I don’t know what does. It’s funny too, considering the publisher problems Amazon has had since the iPad announcement.

“Since the launch of our popular Kindle for iPhone app last year, customers have been asking us to bring a similar experience to the BlackBerry, and we are thrilled to make it available today,” said Amazon’s Kindle VP, Ian Freed. There is at least one difference between the two; the Blackberry version doesn’t support creating annotations from within the app.

Official Site

Apple may have more ebook control than we think

iBook Store on the iPad.An article in the New York Times today suggests Apple may have a little more control over low ebook prices than initially thought. Publishers were turning to Apple and its iPad to save them from the clutches of Amazon and the $9.99 Kindle price point. While Apple does offer more flexible pricing options, it has also made provisions for lowering the prices of the most popular books, back to that $9.99 figure the publishers so hate.

The Times cites “at least three people with knowledge of the discussions,” as the source for the news. It’s not just bestsellers, either. Apple expects publishers to reflect discounted book prices, books sold below the typical $26 hard cover price, in their ebook pricing as well, regardless of bestseller status.

This has to make you wonder what really had the publishers upset with Amazon. Obviously they’re aware of the things Apple laid out in its contract, so what’s the issue? Do they just want some extra income from less popular titles? Are there other Amazon policies that turn publishers away or is it really just a lack of flexibility?

Presented with options publishers turn on Amazon

iPad running iBooks.During News Corp’s quarterly earnings conference call, Rupert Murdoch finally revealed his true feelings about the deal between HarperCollins, which News Corp owns, and Amazon for ebooks in the Kindle Store. “We don’t like the Amazon model of $9.99….we think it really devalues books and hurts all the retailers of hardcover books.”

That pretty much says it all. Now that the company has an option coming with the iPad, it no longer needs to succumb to Amazon’s demands. Things are just the opposite, in fact, thanks to flexible pricing options from Apple. The competition is forcing Amazon to renegotiate prices with publishers for fear of losing market share or publisher support altogether.

It’s tough to say that increased ebook prices actually preserves the value of the book, particularly after prices have been so low. Fortunately for publishers, the ebook reading population was small enough that the rest of the world might not know to care about the difference.

Amazon gives Macmillan the price it wants

Macmillan back on the Kindle.Following a very public feud over ebook pricing, Amazon has caved to Macmillan, giving the publisher it’s desired $14.99 price point for ebooks. The switch came after Macmillan threatened to pull all future publications from Amazon’s Kindle Store if it wasn’t given flexibility with regard to price.

Amazon announced the news to its customers with the following statement:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

I can’t help but feel Amazon is making an irrelevant appeal to the Kindle consumer base. By and large these will be people with more money to spend on books, considering they’ve dropped a couple hundred bucks up front to gain access to the titles. If they really want one of the books, would the consumer base really not buy because of a $15 price tag, one that’s still far cheaper than the hardback option? Probably not.

As a writer, I’m reassured to see publishers taking the reins on this one.

Source: Amazon

Amazon pulls Macmillan ebooks

iBook Store.At some point yesterday Amazon pulled any ebooks from publisher Macmillan due to a pricing dispute, according to the New York Times. Apparently Macmillan wanted to raise prices from $9.99 to $15 and Amazon didn’t approve.

You might remember the same thing happening as iTunes was starting to get its legs. Apple used its massive marketshare to strong arm media companies to the $.99 price point, which most everyone felt was too low. Obviously that model has worked out in Apple’s favor, if not in the favor of most record labels, a few of which were able to strike more flexible deals.

There is one major difference – Macmillan has somewhere to go. Apple is just about to open the iBook Store for its new iPad, which, in all likelihood, is going to outsell the Kindle by quite a bit. Most estimates put the Kindle’s installed base around 3 million. The iPad could easily have that by the end of this year.

I would be pretty surprised, though, if Jobs was willing to give Amazon the price advantage in the ebook war.

Source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/amazon-pulls-macmillan-books-over-e-book-price-disagreement/

Amazon says millions have Kindles

Kindle vs. the iPad.Kindle sales are notoriously hard to track because the company won’t talk specifics. Amazon is also becoming famous for talking about the success of the Kindle in relative terms, making it basically impossible to nail down just how well the ebook reader and the Kindle store are performing.

The most recent statement from Bezos regarding sales came shortly after the iPad announcement. He says, “millions of people now own Kindles.” That means basically nothing. The device has been around for more than two years, and as the mother-of-all ereaders for most of that time, you’d hope it has a couple million in circulation.

Here’s Bezos on the performance of the Kindle store: “When we have both editions, we sell 6 Kindle books for every 10 physical books…This is year-to-date and includes only paid books—free Kindle books would make the number even higher. It’s been an exciting 27 months.” Again, essentially meaningless. Of course the number of ebooks to real books will be higher in the case that ebooks exist for a given text, but is that really a good thing for the industry? Ebooks are much cheaper than hardbacks and even most paperbacks at release. It seems to follow that there could be people without a Kindle that still download the goods to something like an iPhone. It’s good for Amazon but pretty terrible for publishers, who are seeing profits slide in the wake of digital content.

Add to all of this the fact that the Kindle is a purpose-built device, a dying breed gadgets that seem to have decreasing lifespans as the years wear on. The iPad with its epub format and color screen is going to make the Kindle look like yesterday’s brown bag lunch that forces you to load it down with liverwurst sandwiches (may have taken that one a bit far). No thank you.

Kindle opens up for app development

Kindle development kit.Amazon announced today that the Kindle would be opening up for development of third-party apps. It’s getting everything too, not just weather widgets and email browsers. You want games? You got ‘em. Though, you’ll probably hate most of them on that e-ink display.

Really, this has to be a future-proofing move for Amazon. I can’t imagine many developers will be clamoring to get apps on the device, especially with the limitations in place. Free apps have to be less than 1MB and use less than 100KB of data per month. Paid apps are under the same usage limit but can be as large as 100MB, though anything over 10MB has to be downloaded via USB.

It’s hard to imagine the kind of apps that could be successful on a Kindle. The screen refresh works for ebooks, but imagine trying to play a game. It’s just not going to work out. The real benefit, it seems, will be to get developers involved before the release of some sort of color Kindle with a real screen. Until then, I’m pretty sure the “apps” will just be ebooks that serve specific markets.