It’s no secret that the traditional media companies are overwhelmed by digital convergence. If the record labels, film studios, and television networks actually had a coherent plan for the future Medialoper wouldn’t exist.
But what about the publishing industry? While electronic media companies scramble to provide content in digital formats, the publishing industry seems to be mostly oblivious to the revolution that’s taking place.
Insiders inform me that the publishing industry is hesitant to move forward with digital product because it fears piracy – and well it should, there are a surprising number of eBooks available via BitTorrent. What publishing companies don’t seem to realize is that analogue books can easily be turned into PDF files with widely available digital copiers. Traditional books are not immune to piracy, and there are apparently consumers who prefer the convenience of books in a digital format.
Why not offer consumers a choice and give them the option to purchase reasonably priced digital books? It’s possible that Steve Jobs is asking himself this same question.
There was a fair amount of buzz late yesterday about the appearance of the Wikinews print addition in the iTunes music store. Wikinews is available as a PDF file and can be subscribed to just like a podcast (or any other RSS feed for that matter). Steve Rubel speculated that ebooks can’t be far behind, while ars technica dreamed of an Apple produced portable media device, while noting:
… considering the seamless, cross-platform media delivery that iTMS provides, print is pretty much the final missing piece that would transform the iTunes Music Store into some kind of instant-gratification Amazon.com.
To be fair, Apple has offered PDF downloads for a while now. O’Rielly’s Make podcast feed has included a few PDF enclosures, and
some iTunes albums supposedly include PDF liner notes (although I couldn’t tell you which ones since I refuse to buy DRM’d music).
While I would welcome eBooks on iTunes, I’m skeptical that yesterday’s appearance of Wikinews has any hidden meaning, for a few reasons:
- RSS as a format supports any type of binary file enclosure (audio, video, PDF, etc.). Seeing Wikinews in the iTunes environment may have switched on a few light bulbs yesterday, but it was far from a revolutionary occurance
- iTunes is currently all about standardized pricing. I seriously doubt that even Steve Jobs would be capable of negotiating standardized pricing on eBooks
- The publishing industry has a longer history than the electronic media, and as a result is even more entrenched in its traditional business model.
While eBooks on iTunes would pretty much turn it into an instant gratification machine, I’m afraid we wont see that happen any time soon.