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Summary:

With Apple’s iPad due out in six weeks, Adobe is already on the outs for e-book DRM. Apple is likely to use its FairPlay system, but how limiting will it be? Might iBook store content be stuck on the iPad for a while?

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I’m sure this isn’t the final chapter of the story, but it’s sounding like e-books on Apple’s iPad are staying on Apple’s iPad. Actually, it’s probably not as bleak a situation as that. My instincts tell me that content from the iBook store will likely work on other Apple hardware as well — the iPhone, iPod touch and Mac OS X computers — but when? I’m assuming there will be an iBooks application supported on those devices at some point. So, why does it look like the plot is heading in this direction? Adobe told Computerworld that Apple isn’t planning on using Adobe’s Digital Rights Management system for e-book content, even though Apple is going to use the widely recognized EPUB standard for books.

For several years, Apple has protected digital content purchases with its FairPlay DRM and it shouldn’t be a surprise for Apple to use it for e-books as well. FairPlay is the method used to ensure that purchased iTunes content plays back only on authorized computers, which are tied to your iTunes account. Apple does currently allow that content on Microsoft Windows computers through iTunes, but the Windows version of iTunes hit after the one for Mac — nearly 2.5 years after the first iTunes release. That certainly doesn’t mean Apple will keep iBooks content on its own hardware for years, but there’s also no guarantee that Windows devices will support iBooks content out of the gate. And in an effort to sell more iPads, it certainly makes sense to allow the content exclusively on the iPad first. Adding support for other Apple hardware and then following with Windows compatibility would be a wise business plan — and one typical for the Cupertino company.

Another factor at play is Apple not wanting to give Adobe any power in the ecosystem. That’s evident by the refusal to allow or support Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone. It’s estimated that Adobe’s Flash plugin is installed on over 95 percent of all computer browsers and that’s precisely the type of strength and presence for which Apple doesn’t allow. There’s only room for one company in the Apple ecosystem, and that’s Apple. It’s one of the few organizations that wants to control the hardware and the software for the entire experience, as exemplified by the development of the iPad’s A4 CPU. Why be dependent on other chipmakers and generic designs when you can optimize the experience by creating your own CPU? With that approach in mind, it’s no wonder that Apple is spurning Adobe’s presence in iBooks.

So how is this potential situation any different than, say, Amazon’s Kindle? For a while after the device’s introduction, Kindle content was only viewable on a Kindle. Eventually, Amazon released reader applications for the iPhone, PC, Mac and — just today — the BlackBerry platform. A Kindle for Mac version is “coming soon.” The difference is that Amazon is primarily a seller of content in this market, while Apple sells both content and hardware. Sure, Amazon sells the Kindle hardware, too, but it’s a safe bet that far more revenue comes from the Kindle content than the Kindle hardware. Another difference: Apple offers a more complete ecosystem in iTunes. Like Amazon, Apple sells — or will sell — e-books, music, and videos. But the shopping experience is more contained and grouped in Apple’s world. In Amazon’s store, it’s more like walking past several aisles of other items before you see what you need. It’s just not as holistic an experience.

The final chapter is yet to be written, of course. Apple hasn’t shared the DRM approach for iBooks just yet, so it could surprise us with a more open-than-expected approach. But Adobe won’t be surprised — nor should it be, based on history.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The Price of e-Book Progress

  1. Amazon loses money on most every ebook it sells. That makes Kindle a hardware play. Interesting to see how this plays out over the years, while people may be buying Kindle books to read on their iPad Kindle app.

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    1. Unfortunately, I’ve seen little evidence from Amazon in terms of sales and profits from either Kindle hardware or software. There’s been plenty of folks trying to deduce it all, but it’s difficult to piece together. If it was simply a hardware play though, I would have expected Amazon to not create Kindle apps for non Kindle hardware — in some cases, software would then replace the hardware and Amazon doesn’t sell Kindles. Tough call with out actual data from Amazon.

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  2. There’s no Mac Kindle app that I’m aware of: just a long-standing promise of one…

    Unless you have “insider” access?

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    1. You are correct — it’s still “coming soon” Unless “soon” means in the next five minutes, I’ll make a correction. ;) Thanks!

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  3. epub is an open XML-based format. There are plenty of epub readers available for Mac, Windows and Linux, as well as iPhone and Android. So, in the same way that you aren’t limited to Apple DRM audio files and can import MP3 files onto an iPod through iTunes or manually through the device’s file system, you should be able to bring in an epub file for reading on your iPad as well as read it on your preferred platform without any issues.

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    1. True, but my point is that the EPUB content purchased in the iBooks store won’t be nearly as transferrable, if at all.

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  4. There may be no need to transfer/read on other devices. Once you have read an e-book on the iPad you may not want to view it on other less capable devices. The iPad will surely be the premium viewing device for any ebook in today’s splintered marketplace. And don’t forget the iPad is PORTABLE so just take it with you. Don’t leave home without it, problem solved and yes Steve knows best.

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