Last month was a sad one for all ebooksellers who aren’t Apple but who offer iOS apps, as well as for ebook customers.
If you use a Kindle, Kobo or Nook app on your iOS device, you probably already noticed this, but otherwise you might have no idea what’s going on. So here’s a quick explanation and a list of reasons why you should avoid giving any business to Apple’s iBookstore until the company stops being a jerk, not just to competitors but to regular customers.
The really quick summary: Apple has implemented new rules for third party apps that sell content similar to what Apple sells (music, movies, ebooks, newspaper and magazine subscriptions). If you are an Apple competitor, you can no longer use your iOS app to sell content to customers unless you give Apple a 30% cut.
On the surface this might seem fair-ish, although apologists for Apple seem to overlook the fact that a lot of the value of the iOS platform comes from the high quality of these third-party apps.
But regardless of whether it’s “fair” or not for some categories of content, Apple is using it as a weapon against ebooksellers and their customers. In order to maintain a presence on iOS, those competitors have had to remove their stores and any links to their websites from their apps, and take out any instructions that tell new customers how to buy ebooks.
To be clear, this is not a sad side-effect of an otherwise reasonable guideline. It was in fact a deliberate attack on the usability of ebook apps that aren’t iBooks, because there’s no realistic way any ebookseller could have followed Apple’s demands and remained in business. First, the 30% cut Apple demands is too high for other ebooksellers to meet, especially since both Apple’s rules and big publishing’s agency pricing policy forbids them from raising prices. Second, Apple doesn’t even offer an In-App-Purchase (IAP) system that can support the millions of titles that these competitors offer.
So while Apple’s IAP rules may be legit for magazine and newspapers, when it comes to ebooksellers, they’re designed to do only one thing: force competitors to offer less capable apps in an attempt to annoy their customers, who will then presumably come to iBooks for its ease-of use.
But it gets worse. Apple went a step further and rejected any updated apps where the ebookseller tried to explain, in the notes about the update, just why such important functionality was being taken away. I’ve seen grumblings around the web before about how Apple doesn’t like developers to say anything negative about iOS in their update notes, but in this case it’s more than just responsible brand stewardship. Apple wants customers to blame these ebooksellers for their suddenly craptastic app updates, because again this will help drive them to buy from iBooks instead.
And finally, in a market where all the current ebook platforms are closed off from each other, iBooks stands tall as the worst offender. There’s still no way to read iBook files on your computer, and Apple doesn’t sell a cheap EInk device like the Kindle, Kobo or Nook. If you buy an iBook, the only way you can read it is on an iOS device—an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. This makes the iBooks platform the most expensive and least convenient platform you can choose, especially compared to the Kindle, Nook and Kobo platforms.
The only good news I can find in this is that it’s forced competitors like the Financial Times and Kobo to start developing HTML5 web apps that Apple can’t control. Well, unless Apple decides to deliberately break Mobile Safari to reject HTML5 web apps in the future, but that’s just another reason why you shouldn’t give iBooks any of your business so long as Apple is playing so ruthlessly.