Author Val Pattee emailed me from Mexico, asking what I thought about the newly announced iPad. That got me thinking… I guess I am a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more innovation – the iPad seems mostly like a bigger iPhone or iPod Touch. I was hoping for more “magic” – something to amaze me. Perhaps some game-changing features will become apparent over the coming year.
One benefit to the book industry is that the iPad with its iBook store will break Amazon’s near-monopoly position on eBook sales. Amazon has already backed down from its previous position of insisting on keeping 65% of the retail price as its cut — earlier this week Amazon announced it would only keep 30%, which is what Apple is doing. So, rather suddenly, publishers are getting twice the margin! Publishers will now get 70% instead of 35%. That has to be good for authors too.
Also, Apple has agreed to a maximum price of $14.99 for new bestsellers. (Amazon was insisting on $9.99 maximum.) If a publisher is getting 70% of $14.99, that is $10.50. That is likely much more than the publisher would clear on a new hardcover edition retailing at $30. If the publisher is getting the same or larger profit by selling online – and none of the risk of returns and no up-front investment for offset printing – the economic outlook for the big publishers is suddenly looking much rosier.
The big publishers will now be happier to throw their full support behind eBook. That, in turn, will de-emphasize printed book sales. This could accelerate the collapse of the bookstore channel as we know it. Logically there will be more reason to end the practice of selling on consignment (returns).
The other advantage of the iPad is that it can display PDF format. At Steve Job’s launch of the iPad, there was no mention of selling PDF formatted books at the iBook store, only of selling ePUB format (which is essentially HTML), but an App will surely appear quickly to allow the purchase of books in PDF format. The advantage of PDF is that the book’s designer gets to create and lock in a particular look. By contrast, with ePUB, the book appears different to each user, depending on what default type font and size that user has in the iPad’s settings. The ePUB format might be fine for reading novels, but it is poor if you are wanting to read a how-to book with diagrams or admire photo arrangements and other illustrations.
Strangely missing from the announcement is whether the iPad will work with FLASH formatted files. FLASH is how many websites show videos. For example, YouTube shows videos in FLASH. FLASH is currently used at some websites (Amazon Search Inside, Google Book Search and many others) to display PDF formatted books in a manner that doesn’t allow the viewer to copy the document. Thus FLASH helps minimize unauthorized copying and piracy of books. Likely this question will be clarified over the next few days.
People have asked about how to “get my book into the iBook store.” I’m counting on Smashwords.com to do that for us. We send out book files to Smashwords and they re-process the file into various formats, including ePUB, and distribute to a long list of eBook retailers. Smashwords will likely be at the front of the line for setting up accounts in the iBook store. The drawback is that we must take apart our beautifully formatted book files (in PDF) to create a somewhat clunky Word doc file version, which Smashwords then converts to many formats. The end results are not at all elegant, but satisfactory for novels and other text-intensive books. It will be nice to see our books selling at the iBook store soon, and we’ll be receiving that now-much-higher publisher’s margin.