Before Apple CEO Steve Jobs even officially announced the iPad on Jan. 27, the publishing world was a twitter with theories about how the device would revolutionize the industry. Likely to be on the market in late March, iPad started making an impact before it even hit the shelves. Meanwhile, the industry scrambled to predict just what the iPad and accompanying iBook store would mean to the industry: Will this new device do for ebooks what the iPod and iTunes did for music?
Digital publishing firm Aptara did not waste any time releasing a February report titled “iPad: What Does It Really Mean for Content Publishers?” Aptara and CTO Samir Kakar explored some of the most interesting choices made by Apple.
Apple deviated from established e-reader devices such as Amazon’s Kindle by choosing the EPUB format, an open standard developed and overseen by the International Digital Publishing Forum rather than a proprietary format. “EPUB is [already] a standard … and a lot of publishers are converting their content,” Kakar explains. He points out that using an existing standard creates a low barrier to entry, as opposed to forcing publishers to master yet another format.
On the other hand, Aptara’s report says Apple is likely to secure the files with its own proprietary DRM scheme. While Apple has moved away from DRM in its music offerings, Kakar points out that it remains in use in other iTunes content and might also be specifically requested by some publishers as a piracy deterrent. This could potentially prevent the ebooks from being compatible with competing e-readers, despite an otherwise open standard.
What may be more revolutionary than the iPad itself is the iBook store’s pricing and sales model. Unlike Amazon’s wholesale model—which lets Amazon buy the content from publishers, set its own retail prices, and profit off the difference—Apple is reportedly giving publishers the ability to directly set prices. Apple will then take a 30% cut of the sale, much as it does with the App Store, and this is putting pressure on other ebook retailers. Publishers such as HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Hachette have already begun negotiating with Amazon to switch to a more Apple-like pricing model. Kakar believes that model will be the de facto standard in the near future. “I think that’s going to become the norm,” he says. “The agency model is what’s going to become the ‘tomorrow’—in fact, become the ‘today.’”
The iPad is also setting itself apart from the rest of the e-reader market by incorporating a larger, full-color display. Kakar calls the scaling and visibility of graphical elements such as charts or graphs “one of the key factors” in successfully adapting content for portable readers. He notes the iPad’s size should make it ideal for material meant for print. “It is essentially almost the size of letter-sized paper,” says Kakar. He adds, many publishers have been anxious for a full-color e-reader. “That has been one of the key aspects that we have been hearing from publishers,” he explains, adding that while plenty of content is printed purely in black and white, online and educational content tends to be geared toward color. “If you look at the K–12 market, [the content is] very highly illustrated and colored.”
Lastly, Kakar thinks the Apple brand itself could be a powerful draw. “Apple has come out with so many various products,” says Kakar. “We have seen the success coming from the iPod and the iPhone, and, of course, the userbase is moving more toward the [young adult market]. That market segment would be much quicker to get on the iPad.”
Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not Apple will be able to grab the attention of e-reader holdouts that prefer a good old-fashioned paperback book. Kakar says it’s much too early to have all the answers, but with Apple in the picture, the ebook field will likely narrow to encompass fewer key players and fewer devices. That will almost certainly be a boon to smaller developers struggling to keep up with a proliferation of formats, gadgets, and storefronts.