Apple's iBookstore goes indie in Kindle Flame war

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] is reportedly plotting one of its "special events" at the end of the month, sparking a wave of pre-CES speculation designed to put the firm's media efforts into the spotlight once again.


[ABOVE: Does Yellow Submarine send iBooks on a mixed-media journey?]

Here's Eddy

The company's newly-promoted head of iTunes, Eddy Cue will host the big little hardware-free iBooks publishing focused event. TechCrunch says the event is "not major", so Cue probably won't be taking the stage accompanied by motorbikes or rubber-clad cage-dancers. (Though everyone likes a good party.)

Expect improvements to the company's iBooks offering and a publishing sector-focused audience, rather than the usual consumer technology pundits.

What might be discussed?

Power to the people

It looks likely the firm will focus on life beyond the publishing houses at this show, bringing in new tools to enable independent writers to self-publish their creations via the service.

Good eReader follows up initial information on the event with a second story in which it states:

"Sources close to the matter have told us that they intend on launching a new digital self-publishing platform to get peoples content into the iBookstore. This is a huge step forward for Apple to compete with Amazon (DTP) and Barnes and Noble."

This is a good thing.

Independent writers must currently use third party self-publishing portals to get into the company's iBookstore kingdom.

"One of the only ways to get listed into the Apple iBookstore if you are an independent author is to go through a 3rd party such as Smashwords. They assign you a free ISBN for choosing them and they will submit your books to iBooks and tons of others." [Source].

There's no word on the revenue share for the system (but let's face it, we can easily imagine a 70/30 split in keeping with all the firm's other digital iProducts. Apple is expected to make it easy to publish your titles to the store.


[ABOVE: Apple has already enabled ePUB document creation from within iWork's Pages application.]

Paperback writer

Apple upgraded its iWork suite with native ePUB (an ebook standard) support in August last year. That's when it also introduced a best practice support guide for ePUB files, including sample documents to use as templates.

Some may have also picked-up a copy of the Yellow Submarine ebook which was made available just before Christmas. This was remarkable for both its graphics quality, audio assets and multimedia support.

Speculating, any move to enable publishers to deliver HTML5-based mixed media titles via the iBookstore could be hugely popular, particularly in the travel, music, film and education-related topic areas. Enhanced books already feature in-store (image below).

Any move to make mixed media a more central element of the iBooks experience could help the firm develop its service into a compelling and unique counter-proposal to Amazon's ebook offerings. In future I can also imagine books including features provided by supporting iApps could also help Apple turn a new leaf.


Fixing a hole

Amazon's continued success with its Kindle ebookstore currently eclipses that of Apple. This puts Cue under pressure to glam up iBooks with hot, new and unique or at the least deeply useful features to differentiate Apple from Amazon and the Kindle. Amazon is expected to launch a similar self-publishing scheme for indie authors later in the year.

As the growing number two player in the tablet industry, competition between Amazon and Apple can only intensify.

This is a platform war. Others in the post-PC world are still scrambling to offer a media-acquisition ecosystem that matches the depth of either of the two giants.

All too much

The additional imperative which may inform Apple's direction at this event could relate to its chosen agency model for the book sales. This model recently became subject to antitrust enquiries in multiple territories. I consider it unlikely the company will be ready to make any changes to that model at this time -- it will respond to initial feedback from regulators.

A facelift to the iBookstore application is also possible. I'd quite like single button access to launch VoiceOver text-to-speech reading of titles, for example.

What do you expect from the iTunes event?

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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