Sittin’ Here, Watching The Market Go By

July 14th, 2008 · 21 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

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.

And counting.

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 had an ereader app ready for download — true, it was there! — but the necessary information about, oh, using the application was secretly located at 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/ 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, 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?

File Under: The Future of Publishing

21 responses so far ↓

  • peter // Jul 14, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Hi Kassia – thanks for the link to TimesEmit. I’m *so* with you. ( As is James, who works with us: )

    As for the answer to my – and your – final (rhetorical) question? The answer, which will sadden you, is obviously DRM, with a big shot of “no-one told us this was happening”.


  • Joseph Devon // Jul 14, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Every piece of fiction I’ve written in the past year is available for free on my site and is easily readable on the iPhone seeing as how it is all formatted using plain old blogging software.
    I mention this because:
    1) I like getting into debates with K2
    2) I’m plugging myself and
    3) Maybe us authors should be the ones to innovate.

  • Freadom: Reading in the Digital Age | Medialoper // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:09 am

    […] Successfully updated my iPhone. Found and downloaded the Fictionwise ereader app. See my post at Booksquare for the sordid details. Actually, I skipped one detail. I abandoned the Fictionwise experiment when […]

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Hey, if you’re plugging yourself, I’m all for it (especially since you’re plugging in a topic-specific way…). First, of course, tell me how to get your books to my iPhone, or, rather, not just my iPhone, the iPhone of anyone who’s interested. Way back when I first wrote on this topic, I focused specifically on getting content via the iTunes store.

    Which is the number one way authors can innovate and level the playing field. Of course, it would help if the iTunes store had a publications-type category.

  • Joseph Devon // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I don’t actually own an iPhone myself, but many of my readers do. They just open a browser and go to my site. All of my short stories (and a novel broken into ten parts) are available as blog posts. If you can read blogs on your phone then you can read my stories. You simply open the post and it should be there. You can get to a list of stories via the “Stories” page button at the top of the site. (Hopefully my readers who have told me this is easy are correct…otherwise I’m making an ass of myself here.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Yes, it should be that easy. Sorry for confusing the topic. And as long as you have full RSS feeds (which are soooo important), people can read via their reader as well.

  • Joseph Devon // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:37 am


  • SJ // Jul 14, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Another reason that many publishers and eBook publishers may not be on the iPhone is because of the restrictions that Apple put on their third party applications. Fictionwise’s eReader breaks the agreement that Fictionwise signed with Apple when they downloaded the SDK. Either Fictionwise got a special agreement with Apple, their application will be pulled from the app store soon, or Apple will change their agreement with developers. I doubt that Fictionwise has a special agreement with Apple. My guess is that they did not read what they signed and that Apple didn’t have time to do a good review of all the applications that were posted. Apple put a lot of distribution problems in the way of eBook developers. I talked with a few eBook developers at WWDC and all of them ran into this legal problem that Fictionwise is ignoring and breaking. So far I haven’t seen any of the eBook developers I saw at WWDC put any applications on the app store. I am hoping that Apple lets Fictionwise’s application stay on the store so that other eBook readers and publishers can legally publisher their content without creating a separate application for each book (ie AppEngines eBooks).

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  • Jane // Jul 15, 2008 at 5:41 am

    Of course, I am in complete and full agreement with you, Kassia. It doesn’t really make sense for publishers to rely solely on vendors to open the market for them, particularly when it appears that any decent programmer can develop something for the iPhone.

    With my limited tech knowledge, I was able to set up a Bookshelf ShelfServer for the public domain. Could an enterprising publisher team up with someone like Zac Bedell, the developer, and allow its books to be sold through something like that application?

    While I applaud publishing’s efforts to move into the digital format, I really wonder about their vision.

  • Adam // Jul 15, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Much to agree with, but dont think you are right about the diagnosis of why publishers havent been pushing the iPhone:

    DRM is not the issue, most publishers have got over the DRM hangup. I think a more probable explanation is simple eBook fatigue. The promised golden age of eBooks has proven to be a false dawn so many times, that most publishers are taking a very ‘wait and see’ attitude.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 15, 2008 at 6:27 am

    Adam, I really don’t think it’s ebook fatigue. I’m more in Jane’s camp where it’s waiting for someone to show the way…and DRM. They really haven’t gotten over DRM. There are those who get it, but, just judging from my (one-time) Fictionwise experiment, the fear of piracy outweighs the desire to serve customers well.

    I think the problem with the golden age of ebooks (and I do agree that it’s been overhyped) is that it’s never going to happen, not the way anyone thinks. Ebooks are more of a quiet revolution, becoming mainstream without a lot of fanfare. There won’t be a sea change, at least one that’s noticeable, as much as an ongoing shift in consumer behavior (witness mainstream reaction to the Kindle and the possibility of reading on the iPhone).

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 15, 2008 at 6:28 am

    SJ — Interesting theory on the SDK, and you might be correct. Still doesn’t explain why the publishers aren’t talking to Apple about working through the iTunes store. Or at least lobbying for a books/publications section to make finding content easier (I admit it, I simply cannot work with iTunes).

  • Adrian Graham // Jul 15, 2008 at 7:10 am

    It’s happening(eBooks), but slower than people expected. Also we’re waiting for screen technology to get better. The Kindle seems to have made a good start although it’s not available in the UK. Amazon should have put out a Kindle 2 by now.

    I think the iPhone / iPod Touch could make a good casual eBook reader. I imagine Mobipocket would want to get a reader on this platform, but they’re owned by Amazon now so maybe that won’t happen. Wouldn’t it be great to buy eBooks from iTunes … I think Steve Jobs was quoted somewhere saying that he wasn’t interested in eBooks because no one reads any more. I guess he wasn’t including the Internet.

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  • Roland // Feb 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Why haven’t publishers fallen over themselves to get into the Apple market? That’s a question asked by someone that is obviously not a publisher.

    Logikal Solutions recently released “Infinite Exposure” in eBook format. The book will not come out in print format until a certain sales threshold is reached. Ebook conversions were done in-house from the original OpenOffice file. Sony, Palm, and ePub were created.

    The Sony format was posted first on the Sony eBookstore site. Getting your book on that site is free, but requires the patience of a saint locating the correct group of people to get the book loaded.

    The Palm format was posted on eBookMall. There was no method humanly possible of figuring out how to get the book into a central Palm eBook site. It cost roughly $20 to get loaded. Very fair.

    Now, you want to get your ePub version posted on the Apple store…bend over baby, there is a long line of people that needs to violate you first.

    Stanza sent us a contract wanting a $1000 setup fee and a healthy cut on top of the cut Apple takes.

    This “new” service, pixelpapyrus, wants $3000 setup fee and a 20% cut on top of the Apple cut.

    BooksOnBoard (which is basically dealing with Stanza) doesn’t leave any opening what-so-ever on their site for a small or independent publisher. (Sony is at least working on a publisher portal and has a dummy page up saying so.)

    Consequently, the ePub version currently isn’t available for sale. iPhone users will have to install a reader which can read Sony or Palm format. At least until a retail operation contacts us with a fair deal to get the book in the Apple store. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

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