After two years of non-stop rumors and wild speculation the Mythical Apple Tablet (aka the Unicorn) will apparently become a reality later this month.
Among other things, the Unicorn is expected to single handedly (hoofedly?) save newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, while simultaneously killing Amazon’s Kindle. That’s a tall order for a device that no one outside of Apple has actually seen yet. These expectations are not surprising considering the amount of wishful thinking that has been projected onto the device by print industry insiders desperate for salvation in a world that is increasingly turning digital.
I have no intention of adding to the ill-informed speculation about the Unicorn’s specifications or magickal capabilities. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to dissect the claim that an Apple tablet will somehow kill the Kindle.
The logic seems to be that Apple’s tablet will provide a superior user experience to the Kindle (a reasonable assumption), and that consumers will favor a multi-purpose device over a dedicated reading device (probably true). As a result, the tablet is expected to become the digital reading device of choice. In other words, the Kindle is toast!
This logic only holds up if Apple also announces the addition of ebooks as a supported media type in the iTunes store. And I’m not talking about the ebook apps we have today. I’m talking about a true iTunes ebook store. One that replicates the current experience of shopping for music and videos.
While it’s reasonable to expect that Apple will use the tablet launch as an opportunity to unveil App Store 2.0, it remains to be seen whether that will include an ebook store. If it does, the selection of ebooks will have to at least match Amazon, Sony, and B&N’s selection in order for Apple to be a serious player in the ebook market.
But what happens if Apple releases a tablet device and doesn’t add ebooks to the iTunes store? We’ll have a situation similar to the one we have today, but with a device that is more suitable for reading long form text. Publishers will be free to develop and market their own ebook applications for the device (or partner with companies like ScrollMotion or Amazon owned Lexcycle). While this might present some interesting new opportunities, it’s hardly a game changer for publishers struggling bring digital products to market.
An Apple tablet without a dedicated ebook store maintains the status quo for book publishers. That’s good news for Amazon.
Consider the following:
- Analysts believe Amazon has sold at least 2.5 million Kindle devices.
- The free Kindle reading application has been at, or near, the top of the Books category in the iTunes App Store since it was released.
- For many consumers, the Kindle name has become synonymous with ebooks. Over the holiday season I got plenty of questions from friends and family about ebooks. Without exception, everyone was asking about the Kindle. There is some awareness of the Sony Reader and almost no awareness of the Nook. For most consumers Kindle is THE ebook reading machine.
Without an iTunes ebook store consumers who buy a shiny new Apple tablet will likely do what they do when they buy an iPhone or an iPod touch — download a free copy of the Kindle reading application and buy ebooks directly from Amazon.
For those who believe that this somehow weakens Amazon’s position by diluting the demand for Kindle reading devices, consider this quote from Jeff Bezos in a recent Newsweek interview:
So an Apple tablet would be a companion to the Kindle?
Absolutely. We’ve got Kindle for PC. And we’re working on Kindle for the Mac. Our vision is that we want you to be able to read Kindle books wherever you want to read your Kindle books.
It’s clear that Amazon is more interested in controlling the format and the marketplace for ebooks than it is in selling reading devices.
Apple’s Unicorn may just turn out to be the perfect Kindle reading device.
Event alert: I will be presenting at the upcoming O’Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference. TOC is the most forward thinking event in publishing. If you have any interest at all in the future of books, TOC is the place to be. The conference starts on February 22nd. O’Reilly has been kind enough to offer a 15% discount to Medialoper readers. Use the code toc10melo when you register.