Could Apple’s new moves to tighten up eBook and other content controls for the iPad backfire in the end, spurring content providers and end users to turn instead to upcoming generations of Android tablets?
Over the past week, Apple has made it crystal clear that it wants to funnel more iPad and iPhone content through its iTunes billing engine. What isn’t totally certain, though, is how extensive these controls will be, a factor which will affect their impact on both publishers and users.
Meanwhile, Android reared its head last week as a fiercer rival in the content arena with the introduction of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), together with a new Web browser-based Android Market designed to give users more freedom over installing and downloading apps and content.
In turning down a Sony app for reading digital books last week, Apple announced that it is now requiring all publishers of digital content for iPads and iPhones to provide in-app sales methods which will be handled by an iTunes billing system.
Yet, will Apple also allow publishers to sell content for iOS devices in other ways — such as through their own sites — and will the same rules apply for eBooks as it does for digital newspapers and magazines?
Some signs indicate that Apple plans to keep permitting content sales outside of iTunes, as long as sales through iTunes are also optionally available to users.
“Rest assured that we want our customers to be able to get their publications easily both from our App Store and obviously from Web sites and other ways they get them,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s VP of Internet services, at a press event last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, though, UK-based Yudu and other digital publishers of newspaper content have voiced unhappiness over e-mails reportedly sent by Apple saying that they must start routing purchases through iTunes on April 1.
According to a report in Bloomberg, Han-Menno Depeweg, digital publisher for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Apple told the European publisher that offering paid subscriptions to the publication — and including the iPad version in the price — is no longer an “acceptable business model.”
Apple has also suggested that it is simply embarking on more stringent enforcement of already existing content rules. One Apple spokesperson, Alan Hely, said in a Bloomberg report that although Apple’s developer terms haven’t changed, Apple now requires companies selling books for iPad programs outside of the platform to also sell them “from within the app with an in-app purchase.” Hely, however, wouldn’t comment on sales of newspaper subscriptions.
As some see it, the new iTunes system will help spark subscription sales.
On the other hand, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), some newspaper and magazine companies are concerned over the prospects of sharing subscription revenues with Apple, and of relinquishing subscriber data they use for developing products and attracting advertisers.
Still, Apple might be able to wield considerable influence with newspapers and magazines. Although some publications, such as the WSJ and the Economist, have been selling subscriptions on their Web sites, most periodicals don’t have this capability.
Publishers have also been creating their own apps for viewing newspapers and magazines. Generally, though, Apple has only been permitting these apps to offer sales of single copies, as opposed to subscriptions.
The iPad could turn into a comparatively solid choice for subscription-based content sales to mobile users. Competition is still light. Barnes & Noble, for instance, only recently launched its subscription program for the NookColor.
Apple’s policies on eBook content might turn into a different matter. Apple’s iBooks offering already faces tough rivalry from both entrenched and newer players. Consequently, eBook publishers will undoubtedly be even less likely to flock to iTunes — and to give in to controls by Apple– than their counterparts in the newspaper and magazine space.
eBook publishing giant Amazon, for example, currently offers a Kindle app for iPad. Users of the app are able to buy eBooks from Amazon through the iPad’s Web browser. The iPad then populates the eBooks in the iPad Kindle app.
If Apple does require eBook sellers to use iTunes, to the exclusion of other sales methods for iPad, then all purchases through the iPad Kindle app would need to through an Apple-owned billing engine.
Unlike Apple’s iBooks, though, Amazon is already a firmly established mega seller of eBooks across multiple platforms, both mobile and otherwise. Amazon could conceivably remain a highly attractive sales vehicle for eBook publishers even without the existence of a Kindle app for iPad.
More recently, Google — the original catalyst behind Android — has entered into eBooks in a big way with the Web-based Google Books.
Google’s “iTunes alternative”
On a related note, Google has always seen its Android Market as an “anti-App Store,” anyway. “We chose the term ‘market’ rather than ‘store’ because we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available,” wrote Google’s Eric Chiu, in a blog post way back in 2008.
Under the “iTunes alternative” announced along with Honeycomb last week, users will be able to select and buy applications directly on the Web from either a PC or any Android gadget, and then have the apps remotely installed across all of their devices.
Google also rolled out In-App Purchases, a new feature for purchasing content from directly within an app. The jury is still out on In-App Purchases, since it’s just seeing the light of day. Yet this feature is an option, not a requirement, and it’s purportedly aimed at making it easier for developers to sell Premium editions or content to users who have already downloaded an app.
In Google’s challenge to the iPad, more Honeycomb-based tablets are now on the way, too, with LG’s announcement last week of the 3D-enabled G-Slate for T-Mobile’s mobile network.