Since the announcement by Apple last week of new iPhone OS software that will become available in June, publishers Adam Hodgkin and Mike Shatzkin have been having an interesting dialog about the future of the eBook market, and how iPhone 3.0 will affect the competition between Amazon, Apple, and Google. Most of my posting here will be a presentation of the views of Hodgkin and Shatzkin on the eBook market, but I think an article by Ben Parr, at mashable.com, on more general effects of iPhone 3.0, does a good job of setting the stage for the discussion of eBooks. In his discussion of the new ability to purchase items within an application, Parr seems to be talking about the same thing that Hodgkin sees as being so revolutionary about the new iPhone OS (Correct me if I’m wrong on this, Adam). So, first — an excerpt from Parr’s posting:
The new iPhone 3.0 software includes the ability to copy-and-paste, a landscape keyboard, and push notifications. However, none of these updates are as revolutionary as the new features Apple offers to iPhone application developers. The one to watch [especially] is the ability to purchase items within an application. This is a feature that matters because of the vast opportunities that it presents to both developers and users. … If the iPhone application store revolutionized the mobile as a platform, then the iPhone 3.0 OS may very well be the spark that revolutionizes the mobile as its own economy. [boldface here & below added]
With the new iPhone OS, Hodgkin thinks that Apple has put themselves into a leading position in their competition with Amazon and Google for the eBook market:
The announcement earlier this week about Apple’s iPhone OS 3.0 made it at last pretty clear how Apple is going to become a player and the strategy is so simple and solid that I am surprised that more of us did not see it coming. Apple has taken the very sensible position that it doesn’t need to be a big player in the digital books or the ebooks market to win the game hands down. Apple is going to let authors, publishers and developers get on with their business and work out how the digital books market is going to work and Apple is just going to collect the market-maker’s fee for letting it happen, on and in the iPhone arena. … The position that Apple have announced for themselves is stylish, decisive and agnostic. Apple doesn’t mind whether books are based in the cloud as web resources, or shipped around the internet as book-specific file formats. Web-based books, digital editions and ebook file formats can all run easily on the iPhone if that is what is needed: “Open house, come over here and play”. That is the message from Cupertino.
Shatzkin, however, thinks that Hodgkin has jumped too quickly for Apple, and he says that the competition is still wide open:
Hodgkin sees brilliance in Apple’s move not to enter the proprietary ebook wars, but simply to be a facilitator of sales to iPhone users … [But his article] took no note of Sony, Stanza, or the potential impact of broadly-distributed epub files. … It also took no note of Barnes & Noble’s recent purchase of Fictionwise or the fact that Waterstone’s has teamed with Sony Reader for distribution in the UK. … I think, most of all, this analysis omits full consideration of the discrete functions served by the retailer in the supply chain. … Apple is not providing the full suite of retail services. … It isn’t just too early to predict a winner; it is too early to declare the finalists.
Hodgkin posts a reply on his blog to Shatzkin:
Shatzkin has not understood what Apple are doing with the strategy announced for the iPhone 3.0 SDK. They are tackling the retail environment head on and building the retail functions. Shatzkin thinks that Apple will fail the retail test. Did Mike view the video presentation with which Apple gave a preview of 3.0 SDK? Consider that the very first item that Scott Forstall discusses (before even ‘cut and paste’!) is the way that they have enhanced the App Store. Note that its a store. A place where consumers shop. It is a retail store which enables developer creativity and it will support discovery of books, magazines, games etc, browsing and sampling, search, metadata, price choice and traditional bookstore price anarchy, and after sales support (though some fulfillment and much support will fall to developers and publishers). Most striking is the near total freedom that publishers are given on pricing (99c — $999). … It is surprising that anyone would think that Apple who have made such a considerable success of Apple stores and online retail selling will find themselves out of their depth with digital books. Nobody would say that building a retail system for digital books is going to be easy, but Apple clearly are a good candidate to do it. Especially now that they have announced this co-optive strategy.