i’LL See You in Court

Assuming the Mayan calendar got it all wron, and we’ll all live to see 2013, then Apple’s got a day in court to look forward to.

As ruled by Manhattan judge Denise Cote, on June 3rd, 2013 the tech giant will be called forward to respond to the allegations that it helped to orchestrate a coalition of major book publishers (including MacMillan, Penguin Group, Hachette, HarperCollings and Simon & Schuster) in order to set a mandate that any publisher who sold their books via iTunes would not be able to sell them for a lower price anywhere else.

Where the monopoly accusation gets tricky is the idea that any possible coalition that may have been formed was potentially done with the intention of breaking up the stranglehold monopoly that Amazon held on the eBook industry at the time. Apple’s official statement on the subject treads incredibly close to supporting this theory when spokesperson Tom Neumary said at the time of the accusation:

“The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.”

For an official statement, it’s pretty gutsy. In fact, it reads to me more like the title of OJ’s book (“If I Did It“) than it does an outright hands in the air denial.

Nevertheless, as HarperCollings, Simon & Schuster and Hachette have all settled out of court, its down now to MacMillan, Penguin and Apple themselves to face the Deparment of Justice accusation next year.

The ramifications of this future decision will obviously be far-reaching if Apple is found guilty, but even an innocent verdict raises the uncomfortable question of whether or not a tech giant just got away with a business crime under the basis that it was for “the greater good.”

Will Amazon Singles survive the deluge of crap it’s sure to elicit?

Graphite Kindle.

Yesterday Amazon announced a new category of products for its Kindle store. Dubbed Amazon Singles, the new category is aimed at getting consumers to pay for written works that fall somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 words, or 30 to 90 pages.

There are a few problems with this strategy. First, there’s no market for that kind of content. That sounds like a good thing, but in my mind there is no market for a reason. Works of that length tend to be either too much or too little, rarely just right. More importantly, though, is that they aren’t published anywhere else. Though Amazon wants you to believe that great ideas will surface as a part of the Singles program, the reality is that the fairly small Kindle-using population will have access to these things and only a percentage of those users will actually read what’s inside.

More likely is that Amazon will see a surge of submissions to its digital publications service, submissions that are, as we should expect, too much or too little on a given subject. Plenty of would-be authors have a 60 to 90-page project attracting silverfish on a floor somewhere, but how many of them would we actually want to read through?

The one thing Amazon got right is lower prices. There will be people attracted to those lower prices, but it will be solely for price. Several authors have already set a precedent for free content on the Kindle, a practice that has yielded some decent exposure. Will the same be true for shorter works that come with a fee? I doubt it.

Kindle coming to a Target near you


This Sunday you’ll finally have the option to try a Kindle before you buy. Amazon plans to start selling the Kindle in Target stores beginning June 6th.

The news comes just after Barnes & Noble announced that it would offer a free $50 gift card with the purchase of any new Nook through the month of June. Nook has had a leg up on the Kindle since its release, if only because interested consumers could actually hold one before buying (let’s be honest, though, that’s not the only reason the Nook is better).

The Kindle will run you $259 in-store, just as it would if you bought it on Amazon.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

The Color Kindle is a long way off

Jeff Bezos with the Kindle.With the launch of the iPad, a lot of people (myself included) thought the Kindle was dead. I still don’t believe in purpose-built devices, but I can see the value of the device in the interim, that is, before tablets overtake the reader. But Amazon wants to stay competitive. Bezos is still building out the Kindle team if we are to believe recent job postings.

Most people believe the postings are for the development of the Color Kindle, but Amazon’s CEO tells a different story. According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon is “still some ways out” from delivering a color version of the device.

This isn’t news so much as it is an update. We heard last year that color e-ink displays were years off, but it’ still sobering news for the Kindle devotees.

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 threatens to ban two more publishers

Amazon Kindle with the New York Times.Amazon is starting to look desperate in the war for content control against Apple. The online retailer has now reportedly threatened to pull content from two more publishers (the first was Macmillan) if they don’t agree to three year pricing contracts for ebooks. The contracts are designed to guarantee that consumers will get the lowest possible price on ereader content in Amazon’s Kindle store. It’s not anything new. In fact, Apple is trying to lock up the same deal.

The deal is undeniably bad for publishers, though. It gives them no flexibility for change as the market matures, which it certainly will over the next three years. The New York Times article didn’t say which two publishers were being threatened, but you can bet no one wants these kinds of contracts. The fact that Amazon is actually going forward with such aggressive measures says only one thing: this is the last resort. If there were other, more suitable alternatives for both parties you can bet Amazon would have explored them. It would garner a lot less press attention and make the company seem far less money hungry and desperate in the eyes of the consumer.

Source: New York Times

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.