Penguin’s Apple love-in

An article on paidcontent gives me pause for thought. In it, Penguin Books’ CEO John Makinson talks of plans to publish content on Apple’s forthcoming iPad device.

The iPad represents the first real opportunity to create a paid distribution model that will be attractive to consumers

says Makinson.

This is all to do with the App store; somehow we are more willing to buy stuff on the App Store than to pay for other forms of content on the Internet. Penguin’s conclusion: make books into apps:

So for the time being at least we’ll be creating a lot of our content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in ebooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs.

Adobe’s .epub format is not good enough, apparently; only the full flexibility of a native application will do.

Two things strike as notable here. One is Makinson’s presumption that the iPad will be a big hit, thanks presumably to Apple’s success with iPod and iPhone. The tablet format has been a niche market in the past, because it lacks both the convenience of a pocketable mobile, and the capability of a keyboard-equipped netbook or laptop.

The second point is that here is a major publisher planning to create single-platform content that can only be sold through Apple and consumed on Apple’s devices.

Makinson does say “for sale on app stores and HTML”. I am not sure quite what he means; but clearly Penguin does not intend to use iPad apps for all its epublishing. Nevertheless, it raises the possibility of some content that is only on Apple, or best on Apple, or earliest on Apple.

If this idea takes hold, the consequence will be to disadvantage users of non-Apple devices. For example, what if you are on a course, and the recommended reading is only available as an Apple application?

I am already experiencing some of this pressure. I was at a conference earlier this week where the organisers provided an iPhone app to help attendees schedule their time:

This year QCon also has an iPhone app allowing you to browse the schedule by track, by time, favourite a track and access the #qcon twitter channel.

This is not a trend that I welcome. In some respects it is worse than having to run Windows for the sake of some particular application, since iPhone apps have to be approved by Apple, and emulators that have helped us cope with Windows-only requirements do not exist.

I do not have an iPhone; but I am beginning to think that it is a business requirement.

5 thoughts on “Penguin’s Apple love-in”

  1. Your post reminded me of one by Craig Mod on the iPad and books that I came across via Michael Sippey. I’m not surprised that a publisher is excited by the possibility of new forms of “books”. However I would have thought that they wouldn’t deny themselves a revenue stream by taking existing content and with, presumably less work than with an interactive app, deliver it in ebook form.

  2. Wouldn’t it be bitterly ironic if this trend ended up with the Windows mobile platform being seen as a more open alternative to Apple’s vendor lock-in?
    I have a HTC TyTN II and a Sony Reader. Very happy with both of them, thank you, and in no hurry to have to ‘upgrade’ them to Apple devices.

  3. I ordered an iPad today. I’m not concerned about books ever getting locked in to a single platform. It won’t happen.

    I’m not sure that tablets have failed heretofore because they lack power or pocketability. Historically, they’ve been pricey and have run OSes designed for mouse and keyboard, not touch. In that regard, I wish the HP Slate well, but have deep reservations about the usability of the thing.

    If the iPad is a hit, it will be because it’s built from the ground up as a no compromise touch device. iPad 1.0 isn’t going to ruin Apple’s notebook business or anyone elses. It has a clearly defined scope that is unabashed about its limitations. I suspect, though, that it may be the first shot fired in the revolution that will overturn the keyboard/mouse hegemony once and for all.

  4. When there is a format that works … perfect analogy – Apple is the Gutenberg Press of the 21century, you going to get with the times or insist that papyrus is still the better thing because it’s not ‘locked in.’

    Apple is simply not only the best choice but the FREEST and MOST OPEN CHOICE. First, if you pick an obscure format that is not popular like WMA or play4sure, the vendor will shut it down and orphan you – ala HTC or Sony. The iBok uses the ebook format – any “free” or other ebok can be loaded on there and ONLY Apple also allows you to buy Kindle and B&N bookstore books to use on the ipad – what was that about not open again?

    ONLY the iphone allows you to have 99.9% of the functionality of the iphone without having to buy a phone contract – either completely unattached like the ipod touch or the new ipad which lets you buy internet usage f you want it (otherwise, works on wifi anywhere) … yea, real closed.

    The only thing closed are your minds.

    It’s very simple. the iphone is the new printing press. you can try and cover your eyes but the 21st century for reading is finally here.

  5. What you are not seeing is that Apple now has become the distributor of ebooks and if they so choose they can stop any book from being bought because everything has to be purchased from the iBooks store. They still control what goes in any iPad, not the publisher OR the author.

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