e-Book Echo: What Does the iPad Mean to e-Books?

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Our platform focus continues this fine Sunday with the e-Book Echo, our take on the week in the digital publishing world. The biggest news in the e-book world this week was unquestionably the launch of the Apple iPad and the iBooks application. The iPad will do many things, but Apple is touting the iBooks reader and the newly launched iBookstore for purchasing e-books. Apple’s marketing clout will no doubt make an impact on the e-book market, but what do we know about this new reader and store?

Apple made it clear that the content for the iPad will be based on the open-source ePUB format. This sounds good on the surface, but Adobe contacted us to let us know that Apple’s proprietary DRM will not permit iBook content to be used on anything but the iPad. The DRM will not be supported by other readers. This makes for a restriction that Apple has imposed on its own content that perhaps they’d better think about.

It was demonstrated that iPhone apps will work on the larger iPad, so that means that all current third party e-book reader apps will work. It remains to be seen how well they will work on the larger screen of the iPad, but we’ve already heard from some companies who are busy creating iPad versions of existing iPhone readers. It will be interesting to see if Apple permits these new iPad readers in the App Store, as they have a history of not approving apps that compete with core functionality of the devices. While iPhone versions were previously approved, now that Apple has iBooks, these third party readers compete with Apple. This could get predictably sticky if Apple decides to keep these readers from the App Store. If they don’t, the iPad may end up being the reader that supports the widest range of commercial e-book content (Kobo, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, etc…).

Those familiar with the e-book world know that it is a veritable hornet’s nest getting agreements with publishers for content. Separate agreements often have to be forged with each country to allow sales in that locale. Apple has already discovered this dicey situation, as it has become clear that the iBookstore will only be open to U.S. customers initially. The iPads sold outside of the U.S. will not even have the iBooks reader on the device. Surely Apple is working on deals to allow book sales outside the U.S., but it is not clear how long that process may take.

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