Apple wants to have its cake and eat it

That is such a stupid expression. If you have a cake, of course you want to eat it. What’s the point of having a cake if you don’t intend to eat it? You going to wear it or something? It’s like saying, “Oh you don’t just want a car, you want to drive it too!” Yeah, of course I do. That’s the fucking point of having a car.

But I digress. The NY Times is reporting that Apple has told Sony and some other developers that they can no longer sell ebooks through their iPhone/iPad apps unless those sale transactions go through Apple’s system. What this basically means is that Apple want their 30% cut of every ebook sold from the Sony Reader store through the Sony Reader app on any of their devices.

On the one hand you can understand why Apple want a slice of the pie when their platform is being used for commerce, but it’s actually taking the piss a bit. The whole concept behind the app phenomenon originally was that the more things you could do with an iPhone, the more likely people are to buy one. By making heaps of apps available, Apple would shift more hardware units. Hardware and accessories have always been Apple’s core business after all. This decision marks a distinct shift in Apple’s approach. To fully understand what they’re doing, click the NY Times link above and have a read. It’s a very clear article.

The downside to this for us is that it’s holding back the emergence of ebooks as mainstream story consumption. By adding complication and costs to the delivery of ebooks, it only makes things more expensive for the end purchaser and slows the all-products-on-all-devices world that we desire. For ebooks to work properly and for prices to settle to an acceptable norm, people need to be able to buy any book from any store and read it on any device.

For example, you can buy and read Kindle books from Amazon on your Kindle reader. You can also get them and read them with the Kindle app on the iPhone. This Sony situation heralds a possible hiccough in that process – will Kindle be the next thing that Apple throttles? Will Kindle books suddenly become more expensive on other platforms, or not available at all?

This is a bad precedent. The real strength of ebooks and the place where most money is to be made is homogeneity and blanket coverage. When people can read any book from any store on any device, loads more people will start to pick up the technology. Just the same as music and MP3s. It wasn’t until the MP3 format became standard that digital music players became ubiquitous.

More birth pains of the digital publishing industry. It’ll be interesting to keep any eye on this one and see what happens. What do you think? Would Apple restricting its ebook content like this affect your ebook purchases?

EDIT – Please see the comments below. Seems I was one of many to misinterpret the situation and there’s a link down there that makes it all a lot clearer. In this case Apple are being unfairly criticised.


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23 thoughts on “Apple wants to have its cake and eat it

  1. All these companies seem to be fighting to become dominant and push out the others, which seems to be stopping the all books on all devices model, which I totally agree should be the format.

    Apple doesn’t even have something decent to compete with as you can get iBooks on your PC or Mac or any non-Apple device (this is coming from an Apple fanboy) but also they’re don’t offer eInk which is a deal breaker for me.

  2. As soon as I saw the NY Times story, I knew you’d have something to say about it. 😉

    It’s a very dumb move on the part of Apple. Counterintuitive to the whole point of having apps.

  3. Just for pedantry’s sake, the idiom means something like eating your cake and keeping it.

    As for Apple, centralised control is what the brand’s all about — I would expect much much worse from them over the next few yrs.

  4. Apple needs to back off on this one. Anybody with 1/2 a brain will dodge this nonsense by using their Kindle App only to read the books they’ve bought and using Safari (or a browser of their choice) to make the actual purchases on Amazon. The WhisperSync takes care of the rest.

    And then Sony and everybody else will allow you to do the same thing, and Apple will have rocked the boat for nothing. And in 10 months or so when the market is flooded with the pre-Christmas tablets, they’ll either adjust their policy or lose out.


  5. The expression should be “You want to eat your cake and keep it too” then or something like that!

    This is just a forst step from Apple, I think. Under the guise of “reasonable business decisions” they’re trying to control publishing purchases and give iBooks are bigger market share. Following that we’ll see a lot more restrictions in apps and Apple grabbing for more content cash. There are a lot of apps that direct people to a browser to purchses items or expansions for the app in question. Apple will slowly move to shave profits off all that stuff, I expect.

  6. Christopher – sorry, missed your comment before. But yes, you hit a very salient point. This is the kind of thing consumers will circumvent. Smart business would be making things as simple as possible, with no circumvention required, to keep people loyal to the brand. We’ll see…

  7. In truth, Apple have already proved that people will put up with a lot of shit. There’s a lot about my iPhone that really annoys me – it’s not the product, but the policies. I love my iPhone, I hate Apple policy. They keep too tight a rein on content and interfacability (is that a word? It is now) and have proved that even so, people will continue to buy Apple products.

  8. Seems like greed is what’s currently screwing traditional publishing. I’d sure hate to see ePub suffer the same fate.

    In this instance, it seems a bit like Apple is biting the hand that feeds. One major reason people are adopting their products is due to the multi-tasking and openness. If they want to charge all app developers a cut of sales (maybe they already do?), so be it. However, they shouldn’t create new rules for eBook distributors/apps.

  9. Good link, Chris, thanks. Here’s the key point for me:

    “Sony tried to play fast and loose with the idea of ‘in app purchases’ and got burned by a well-established Apple rule. Amazon’s Kindle app on the other hand plays by the rules, making sure that all purchasing happens outside of the app.

    Pretty simple really.”

    There you go, then!

  10. Disappointing news – I’m not a fan of Apple’s desire to strictly control (and make money from) hardware, software and content. What I like about Kindle is I can (currently) read a book that I have purchased on my Kindle reader, laptop or iphone. In future, if I cant transfer the content I own, whether music, video or text, to a portable device then I just won’t buy that particular piece of hardware.

    Now considering an Android or Windows 7 phone when my iPhone contract runs out.

  11. James – this is the ongoing issue with ebooks and the one things above all others that will slow uptake. There has to be a situation where all content can be read on all devices. Sharing is one thing, but if I buy an ebook, I want to read it anywhere, not have it restricted to one place. What if that device breaks? I lose all my books too? Not good enough.

    Chris – That Kobo app does look like fun, but essentially useless in the greater scheme of things. I’m not sure it’s the real “game changer” the article suggests. I think a part of Apple’s process with these current changes is to make all other providers more expensive than iBooks, so all Apple users only buy ebooks from iBooks. But that attitude will likely burn them badly.

  12. I don’t know if I’d go with “useless”, though. Making reading back into a more social experience is a good thing, and the trend toward game/reward social systems and their integration with Facebook/twitter/whatever-comes-next may well help ebook sales. Hell, the next wave of hybrid cars in Japan let you “level up” certain features and post your best fuel consumption to Facebook. 🙂 But yes, just a nicety and not a game changer.

    And I agree, Apple’s in a war it’s going to have trouble fighting. Hard to believe a company with so much Hardware innovation can fail so badly at the Software end. Let’s face it, iBooks is crappier than the other options. It has crap content, crappier region-encoding rules, etc. But it lets you import a lot of formats, so at least there’s that (for now).

  13. I’m not sure I’d like my reading habits shared with everyone though. Reading is a very personal pursuit.

    iBooks is the crappiest app in my mind. I read a lot of ebooks on my iPhone and I use mainly Stanza, but also Kindle and a couple of dedicated books apps. I’ve got iBooks, but never used it for anything other than looking at a couple of free books.

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