Associated Press headline: “Apple sells 1 million iPhones in first 3 days”. Add to that the six million phones already in the hands of customers (all of whom, I should note, chose to update their software…right when I was updating mine). Doing some quick, nearly caffeine-free math, that’s 7 million web-enabled, application-ready phones in the wild.
Now is the time for bold, decisive, maybe even counterintuitive action.
In March of this year, Apple released the Software Developer’s Kit (aka SDK) with hopes that people would create cool tools for the iPhone. This wasn’t a clever ploy to gin up interest in the iPhone. Okay, it was sort of a clever ploy. What happened, as we all saw this weekend, was a whole lotta developers pushing out cool little applications, finally (finally!) letting us see how the future of mobile might play out.
Since there has been significant interest in using the iPhone as an ereader, I was, well, expecting amazing things from the publishing industry. Hopes. Dashed. On a weekend when headlines were there for the grabbing and customers were searching for both toys and content, the publishing industry, perhaps practicing summer hours, was curiously silent. Not a single major initiative, announcement, horns-blaring call to check out these great offerings on iTunes.
Call me crazy, but I’d expect an industry that salivates over moving 150,000 units to be all over the potential for reaching seven million “mobile is the future” customers. Are you not out there, listening to readers, gauging their interest? They want, you have, and you’re still hiding the goods. I get this isn’t the largest market you have, but is that an excuse to sit on the sidelines?
There is one retailer making commercial fiction available for the iPhone (commercial = stuff that people pay money for). Word spread like wildfire through reading communities that Fictionwise.com had an ereader app ready for download — true, it was there! — but the necessary information about, oh, using the application was secretly located at eReader.com. So, blah, blah, blah, create account, find book, read instructions to get book, realize that site has increased traffic due to pretty decent (they say thousands, but see above numbers; thousands is darn good for publishing) so things might be slow, log into my account on iPhone with user name and password, and, sigh, see the book I purchased.
Good news for my friends: at this point, in the name of science, I am buying a lot of books written by you.
Now the Fictionwise/eReader.com process was made even more cumbersome by the fact that the book I chose to purchase was “premium”, meaning that, even after I’d purchased it and downloaded it to my device, I was required to unlock it by re-entering my customer name (i.e., credit card customer) and credit card number (being assured that in no way, shape, or form would my credit card info be captured). After that, finally, I could access the book.
WTF? According to eReader.com, this is a requirement by publishers for premium content (which appears to be regular content from major publishers). Are you trying to stop people from reading? Stop treating your paying customers like criminals. You know what? If I bought this book in physical form, I could not only resell it, but share it with every friend I have. And a few strangers. Random people at the grocery store.
Why are you trying so hard to keep me from my content?
Times Emit discovered a Stanza ereader, thanks to a tip from Teleread, so I went and got that one too. Stanza supports the .epub format, but the library is mostly public domain. AppEngines also has a combo reader/book thing going on — you can purchase the whole package for ninety-nine cents (search on ebooks when in the iTunes store). Granted, what you’re purchasing is public domain content, but it’s a interesting experiment in mixing form and function, or something like that.
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say most publishers are waiting for someone to offer them a pre-packaged solution that somehow fulfills the crazy DRM requirements that publishers use to keep legitimate customers from easily accessing content while doing so very little to stop genuine piracy (trust me: they want to steal, they’re gonna steal. Your job is to make it easier to buy.). While publishers wait, the moment will pass. Now is the time for bold, decisive, maybe even counter-intuitive action. To paraphrase Kirk Biglione, are you a printer or a publisher?
You believe that kids today don’t read and ebooks will never catch on? Well, it’s your future. Sometimes others say it better than me, so I’m letting Times Emit get the final word — trust me when I say the sentiment is more than shared (though I’d probably expand the geography a bit):
So, if Stanza can support ePub; and publishers are supporting ePub, and iTunes can support the sale of products on behalf of third parties – why isn’t every UK publisher rushing to get its books into ePub on iTunes?