In case you hadn’t been paying attention (which is entirely understandable – you’re a human, with actual lives, families, hopes, dreams and whatnot – unlike us in the Exchange that live, breathe, and sleep virtually), the eBook market has been fraught with drama for the past few years. Amazon basically dominates the book market, but a few years back Apple and the major book publishing companies were found guilty of price fixing in an attempt to wrestle control from Amazon. Apple is appealing this decision because what was described in the trial as “the agency model” which Apple created with the publishers, has long been known as the iTunes pricing model. It’s the way that Apple has always shared revenue with the music industry and with developers of apps – Apple let’s companies set prices and they take 30%. It wasn’t a new model with books, so Apple will argue, how could it be collusion?
My colleague, and Student Innovation Fellow, Jon Ciliberto (say it out loud, you’ll appreciate his name even more) recently wrote about how authors are responding to Amazon’s strong-arming the publisher Hachette into accepting certain pricing terms. These authors, including some of the most influential writers of our time, are calling for the DOJ to investigate the monopolistic practices of Amazon.
This brings us to this week. In a series of events that can in no way be called coincidental, Adobe and Apple both released updates to their ebook creation tools that just so happen to make it easier for publishers to move from print, to standards compliant interactive epubs, to the iBooks format, with functionality that moves seamlessly from format to format. This will make standard ebooks much more functional, while at the same time making it much easier for the print industry to supply books to the Apple iBooks store. Where Adobe and Apple have an on-again off-again relationship, it does appear that they worked together on this effort to more effectively compete with Amazon. Apple basically created the modern interactive ebook with iBooks Author, and Adobe benefits from Apple’s expertise in building interactive books. On the other hand, Adobe owns the print book market with their layout tool InDesign, and so Apple benefits from a quick import of InDesign files. Adobe released their update with interactive features that match most of the interactive tools in iBooks Author, as well as some new hyperlinking options. Apple then released an update to iBooks Author that, amazingly, imports the new InDesign format, coincidentally also includes new hyperlinking options, and also includes the ability to import standard epubs. So, new Adobe features that sound very Apple, and new Apple features that support the brand-new Adobe format, and they both get new hyperlinking ability.
For consumers and independent creators, this is great news. Everyone has worried about the walled-garden of Apple, and this makes them a better player in the larger market, and everyone has been disappointed about how slow Adobe has been in supporting ebooks, and this helps them create better ebooks. Win! ….that this partnership in no way benefits Amazon, means that if Amazon wants to continue to own the market, they are going to have to get into the content creation game – with more consumer-friendly tools for creating kindle books, or <gasp> perhaps an embrace of standards compliant formats like epub. If they don’t try to compete, how long can they ride on just consumer lock-in? Could the combo of (A)pple plus (A)dobe, become a more powerful force than (A)mazon? Who knows, but for everyone out there that wants to create or read ebooks, the market just got a lot more interesting!