By Light Unseen Media
BLU~Media Blog

February 5, 2010

Why I’m not getting excited about the Apple iPad

Filed under: Apple,e-book,e-book readers,iBookstore,iPad — admin @ 1:53 am

Apple “unveiled” the iPad on January 27. It has been greeted with highly variable reactions from the customer base. Many devoted fans of the Apple Macintosh family of computers have been waiting eagerly for a “netbook” solution of their very own. The iPad doesn’t seem to be that solution. I won’t summarize the criticisms, but you can read one techie review here. There are people who can’t wait to get their hands on the iPad, and hey–more power to them. But they seem to be less numerous than Apple hoped.

However, much is being said about the supposed impact of the iPad on publishing. The iPad is intended to be far more than “an e-reader,” but it can be used as one. Apple is creating an iBookstore, like the iTunes store, through which iPad users can buy and download books. In advance of the iPad announcement, Apple negotiated deals with five of the “Big Six” publishing conglomerates to make e-books available in the iBookstore. Only Random House has held out so far. iBookstore e-books will generally be higher-priced than e-books sold through other venues, including Amazon’s Kindle Store.

Apple’s so-called “agency model” for acquiring e-books has contributed to some recent high-profile inter-corporate wrangling among Amazon and Big Publishers. But that’s a topic for another post.

As a small publisher, I can’t get interested in the Apple iPad for a very simple reason: Apple won’t let me in. As far as I can see, Apple only wants Big Name Books from Big Name Publishers. We small press people can go blow. No information whatsoever has been made available to small publishers as to how we can become a part of Apple’s new program. (Scouring Apple’s website for clues gives a poignant new meaning to their corporate street address: “1 Infinite Loop.”) With Apple, the message is clearly, “don’t call us, we’ll call you–if you’re important enough for us to bother with.”

This corporate attitude doesn’t surprise me. I’ve had a beef with Apple since they first released the Macintosh in 1984. Until then, I rather liked them. I developed software for the Apple II series (IIe and IIc) in the early 80s. They were fun little machines–and they were open machines. You could pop off the cover and install cards in expansion slots–even cards from third party vendors, I seem to recall. You could get documentation from Apple and program away, without paying a big annual fee for “developer” privileges like you do now. Indeed, you kind of had to, because there wasn’t much commercially packaged software available for the Apple II series.

The Macintosh changed all that. It was released as a closed system (leading to a fruitless “open the Mac movement”) and the first model didn’t have enough memory for its own operating system (leading to the release of the “fat Mac” with the minimal memory the Mac should have had in the first place). You can read a detailed history of the Macintosh here.

But along with the Macintosh, Apple adopted its permanent new corporate policy. Apple became, and still is, one of the most proprietary, territorial, homogenous, dedicated-singular-platform corporations around. Apple’s attitude is: “we do it all for you, we do it better than anyone else, you don’t need anyone else, and if you want our products and services, you can’t use anyone else’s.” Apple, like Disney, has created its own xenophobic universe. Apple isn’t interested in cross-platform compatibility. Your iPod will play MP3s but you can’t play iTunes music on anything but an Apple product (either hardware or software.) Apple practically wrote the book on DRM. When it comes to technology, Apple doesn’t believe in polluting the genome. In addition to this, Apple’s pricing structure, across the board, is comparatively high, and you have no choice but to pay it, because there are no generic equivalents.

That’s Apple’s prerogative, of course. No one has to buy Apple products. And unlike other companies who took that approach in the 1980s–Digital Equipment Corporation, once the biggest employer in my area and now extinct, comes to mind–Apple made it work, spectacularly well. But what offends me about Apple is that they’re such flaming hypocrites about their business model. They maintain this exclusionary, proprietory, superior stance, but at the same time, they put up this faux-populist pretense of being the free-spirited hipsters, the cool guys who are all about creativity and art and music. In fact, they’re all about Big Corporate Interests, profit and the bottom line–even more than their much-maligned competitor, Microsoft. (Apple is also among the most litigation-happy corporations.)

That’s why as a small independent publisher, I’m just following the news about the iPad for reference. Apple won’t sell By Light Unseen Media’s books, and iPad users won’t be reading them–at least not on their iPads. In any event, Apple is not stressing the iBookstore in its iPad promo–it’s buried halfway down the iPad Features page on Apple’s website and Steve Jobs brushed over it when he gave his big presentation on January 27, even though that presentation was made at Digital Book World. I expect that the iPad has far more potential to radically change the periodicals industry–magazines and newspapers, things that people subscribe to, read, and discard–than book publishing.

I’m definitely not “boycotting” Apple. I have an iTunes account and Quicktime Pro, I buy iTunes and iPod products for my niece and nephew. My business model is to work with every vendor and distribution channel for By Light Unseen Media’s titles that exists, without prejudice–if they’ll let me. Apple isn’t the only e-book vendor to cold-shoulder small publishers. After multiple queries, Sony finally replied to me about the Sony Reader Store…by telling me to sign up with Smashwords and quit bothering them. By then, I already had set up with Smashwords, a couple of months earlier, but By Light Unseen Media’s titles still don’t show up in Sony’s store. Barnes & Noble’s e-book store also will only take small press books via Smashwords, but they, at least, list our titles.

Aaron Pressman makes a good case for his thesis that Big Publishers really want to kill e-books altogether. It’s a safe bet that bookstores, both indie and Big Box, would love to send every e-book to a shallow grave. What do readers really want? It doesn’t look like anyone connected with Apple, Sony, or the Big Six publishing conglomerates could care less.

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