Apple

Publishers Escape Liability in E-Book Antitrust Case

10 September 2017

From FindLaw:

A federal appeals court said book publishers violated antitrust laws by conspiring to change prices for ebooks, but they did not injure the retailers who sued them over it.

In Diesel eBooks v. Simon & Schuster, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said the retailers could not prove by the publishers caused their losses. The decision also spared further embarrassment for Apple, which was forced to pay a record fine in a related matter.

“We have ruled that the publisher Defendants and Apple did indeed conspire
unlawfully to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act,” the judges said, referencing
United States v. Apple. However, the court said the conspiracy did not cause the plaintiffs any damage in this case.

. . . .

In the ebook infancy, the industry operated largely on a wholesale business model. Publishers would sell ebooks to retailers with a suggested price, but the retailers set the final price.

The major publishers unilaterally changed the model, however, requiring retailers to sell at the publisher’s price. The publisher then paid the e-tailer commissions for sales.

In the wake of the change, Diesel went out of business.

. . . .

The appeals court had already heard the story, when the federal government and 33 states sued Apple and six major publishers. The trial court found they violated the Sherman Act.

“Through their conspiracy they forced Amazon (and other resellers) to relinquish retail pricing authority and then they raised retail e-book prices,” U.S. District Judge Denise Cote wrote at the time. “Those higher prices were not the result of regular market forces but of a scheme in which Apple was a full participant.”

Link to the rest at FindLaw

Are the tech giants too big to be good partners for book publishing?

22 August 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

An online discussion forum that includes publishers and librarians and tech people usually sends me several emails a day. About 10 days ago, a conversation evolved about Google Book Search and the Google Library Project, two initiatives by the search giant that were initiated in the early part of the last decade.

Because both programs essentially gave Google a trove of book-published content for full text search, there was a wariness among the publishing community about them when they started. In time, publishers (through the AAP) sued Google and the course of the lawsuit ultimately led to a sharp curtailment of Google’s ability to just do the scanning. After a while, it appears the reservoir of interest at Google for the project, which started as more of a “service to humanity” idea than a profitable one, just evaporated. The scans that Google had already done became part of the HathiTrust repository of content, an important research and scholarship tool in the non-trade world without any recognition or impact on the trade world at all.

. . . .

And, of course, Google is the single most powerful source of “discovery” and many in publishing wonder if books overall would have benefited from Google being more “knowledgeable” about what is inside of them.

So, to this day, years after the litigation and the scanning program have concluded, there is a division of opinion in the publishing community. Some see Google as a bully and a villain, trying to make its own rules to benefit from publishers’ content and crippling the value of copyright. Others focus on the lost opportunity and believe publishers would actually have more valuable intellectual property (more valuable copyrights!) today if they’d just allowed the Google programs to develop and flourish.

. . . .

In the course of the discussion, a very knowledgeable and experienced veteran of publishing across education, professional, and trade offered the comment that “Google is a terrible partner.” I asked him (offline from the group discussion; he’s a friend) to amplify that.

My points of context for Google weren’t in publishing; they were in tech. My own most extensive experiences with the big three tech companies that publishers dealt with — Amazon, Apple, and Google — was working out their participation at publishing conferences.

. . . .

What I saw was that Apple was the most uptight; it was hard to get speakers because messaging was so tightly controlled by upper management.

Amazon would sometimes be very agreeable, but primarily when they had an agenda: some program they wanted to get across or some point they wanted to make. So they were often cooperative, but very much on their terms to put across their message du jour. In general, they wouldn’t do panels or Q&As. They needed to control the conversation and skillfully avoided being pushed to publicly discuss anything they didn’t want to talk about. But they were often available and always interesting, and unlike Apple (in my experience), would engage with you honestly about their agenda.

. . . .

Google was, in my experience, by far the most open and accessible of the three companies. You could tell them you wanted speakers or panelists to cover one subject or another and you’d get directed to people who could help you. And Google employed a pretty fair number of ex-publishing people who were conversant about issues from a perspective that publishers could relate to.

. . . .

What my friend said in response to my inquiry, in which I had only mentioned Google, was, “Google, Apple, and Amazon are all bad partners. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand are good partners.”

So much for my contextual frame.

But grouping the three to me made the point that my context was what mattered. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand all make their living in the book business. Google, Apple, and Amazon have a financial stake in the book business that amounts to a small rounding error to their overall financial performance.

. . . .

For the entire life of the book business until about fifteen minutes ago, it was very much a free-standing industry. The only larger-than-the-industry enterprises it had to deal with were the Post Office and United Parcel Service. Our authors, designers, typesetters, printers, and, most important of all, customers to which we shipped directly (the wholesalers and retailers and libraries) were part of the publishers’ world. They depended on the publishers as much as the publishers depended on them.

Amazon was the first piece of evidence — and still the most important piece of evidence — that the old world has disappeared.  . . . . They sell more than half of the books for most publishers, but all the books they sell probably amount to less than 5 percent of their total margin. And while Penguin Random House may be in the neighborhood of half the consumer book sales overall, they wouldn’t amount to nearly that big a percentage of Amazon’s book sales because Amazon gets a disproportionate share of professional and other niche markets and thus from publishers who don’t compete at all with PRH in the consumer market.

And because Amazon has very intentionally created a whole massive pool of consumer books that nobody else has, through their own publishing and enabling independent authors.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has had direct business/legal dealings and negotiations with Apple and Amazon over the last 15 years or so. For context, he has also had business negotiations with Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Intel in the tech world plus every major investment bank in New York (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc., etc.), most of the large accounting firms plus Disney, American Express and a bunch of other big companies.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean PG knows everything about negotiating intellectual property partnerships and other deals with large organizations, but he does know some things about that subject.

PG definitely has not represented any large publishers in their dealings with large tech companies. He has, however, represented a lot of authors in their dealings with large publishers.

Speaking generally, large publishers are not cut out to be good partners for tech companies.

Publishers are simply too rigid in their business vision and very much focused on the short term (which is strange for organizations that license copyrights, which extend far into the future).

This short term outlook is substantially affected by the fact that the Big Five publishers are all owned and controlled by other and larger media conglomerates. Four of the Big Five are owned by large European publishing corporations that are not known for their commitment to innovation and could not be described as tech-savvy in any sense. The fifth Big Five publisher, Simon & Schuster, is owned by CBS.

Each of these media conglomerates is heavily focused on this quarter’s and this year’s income, expenses and profits. They’re not what anyone would call forward-looking or focused on the long term. If they think about the long term at all, they’re convinced it will not be much different than last quarter.

(PG worked for a major subsidiary of a very, very large international media conglomerate for three unhappy years and knows that of which he speaks.)

This means that if Google sends someone to talk to the President of a Big Five publisher, Google is talking to a middle-manager in a much larger business organization. The Big Five President can do pretty much whatever he/she wants to do with Barnes & Noble and Ingram (as long as it doesn’t have an adverse impact on profits), but cutting a strategic deal with Google is way, way out of his/her job description.

Organizations like Google, Apple and Amazon quickly become frustrated with organizations that are not able to move rapidly.

iPad vs Mac: Episode 7

21 August 2017

From Monday Note:

With the sophisticated user interface and powerful system apps afforded by iOS 11, the iPad feels like it’s finally reaching maturity. But what does the device’s clarified identity say about the Mac’s future?

The iPad is a strange animal, a Chimera that has had trouble finding its place in an Aristotelian classification of computing creatures. Is it a smaller PC, a bigger phone, something else? During the January 2010 iPad unveiling, Steve Jobs briefly departed from his usual razor-edged storytelling to admit ambiguity about the identity of his latest creation:

“[iPad] has to find its place between the iPhone and the Mac”

Jobs’ hesitancy proved to be insightful. In fact, exceptionally so: Seven years later we’re still debating what the iPad actually is. The meteoric rise followed by a three year slump didn’t help clarify the iPad’s place in the world.

. . . .

Tim Cook has long professed his faith in the iPad’s future:

“The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.”

Does the iPad’s rebound prove him right? Does Cook’s proclamation mean that the iPad is destined to replace the Mac? This question — perhaps I should say ‘agitation’ — was raised when the iPad came out and continues to this day.

In the Socratic spirit I referred to in last week’s Monday Note, I’ll take both sides of the argument…

It’s abundantly clear that the iPad will continue to replace the Mac.

. . . .

By offering flexible user interface choices — touch only, Smart Keyboard, Pencil — iPad Pros will not only compete with the Mac, they’ll surpass the laptop.

The iPad also wins the price war. Prices range from $329 for an entry-level 9.7” iPad to $1099 for a 512Gb 12” iPad Pro. Add a keyboard and a Pencil to a fully decked 10.5” iPad Pro — it has a better screen than its larger cousin — and you’ll top out at $1212.

. . . .

Although the Mac still brings in more money-per-device — the Mac’s ASP of $1,303 is three times that of the iPad’s $435 — the company’s mobile devices make it up in volume. Last quarter, Apple sold more than 55M iOS devices (iPhones and iPads), compared to 4.3M Macs.

. . . .

As it becomes a more general-purpose machine, the iPad will continue to steal uses and users from the Mac. As often stated by its execs, Apple isn’t worried about cannibalization. More important, the iPad’s ever-improving UI and functionality will wrest users from its competitors.

This leaves the Mac line doing nicely for two disconnected reasons: High-end “truck-like” applications, and the estimable population of users who, as a matter of personal preference, opt for the traditional “horizontal-hands” UI.

Link to the rest at Monday Note

With due respect to all his Mac friends, PG says Apple is mostly a phone company. A quick check discloses that the iPhone has represented over 50% of Apple’s revenue for almost five years, nearing 70% during several quarters during that time period. The iPad and Mac aren’t what make Apple the company it is today. If the iPhone misses a beat, Apple will shrink quite rapidly.

PG started in DOS when dinosaurs roamed the earth, then transitioned to Windows. A few years ago, with the help of one of PG’s Apple-bedazzled offspring, he bought a top end Mac laptop with appropriate software, but, despite using it as his principal computer for a few months, the magic just wasn’t there for him.

One of the problems was finding Apple versions for the zillion little non-mainstream software programs PG has built into his daily workflow and which either save him lots of time or provide extra security for the confidential information he has on his computer.

An example? Autohotkey , an open-source macro program.

PG’s use of macros dates back to WordPerfect, a perfectly lovely word processing program (far better than MS Word is, even today, in PG’s stunningly humble opinion) that was acquired by Novell, another essentially extinct company, and died a quick death thereafter. (PG knows Corel still produces a product called WordPerfect, but it bears as much resemblance to the real thing as a dinosaur skeleton does to a living velociraptor.)

PG had over 150 WordPerfect keyboard macros that he used in his daily work. With them, he could move like a rocket in his law office. In some cases, he could literally finish a document for which lawyers typically charged the equivalent of a four-figure fee in today’s dollars before the client finished writing a check to give to PG’s paralegal to pay for the document.

Any legal documents PG produced on a frequent basis were macro’d to the max.

He practices a much different type of law today than he did in that day, but still uses Autohotkey keyboard macros for his legal work, his blogging and to make things a bit zippier in the Lair o’ PG. Examples of macros used frequently on TPV are ltr – “Link to the rest at”, ttt “and thanks to ______ for the tip.”, tpv “The Passive Voice” and lwsj “Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)”.

One of the earliest macros PG remembers reading about was used by a prolific author who used an ancient word processing program called WordStar. The macro inserted a period, then a closed quotation mark, than an Enter key, then a tab for the next paragraph, then an open quotation mark. He used it for finishing one paragraph of dialogue and beginning the next:

words, words, words[.”

“]Words words words

If you type at 65 words per minute, you are using approximately 20,000 keystrokes per hour. If you can make some of those keystrokes instantly produce much more than a single character each, your productivity could increase.

Amazon’s Alexa Has A Data Dilemma: Be More Like Apple Or Google?

15 July 2017

From Fast Company:

Devices like Amazon Echo could someday turn into a treasure trove for developers that make voice assistant skills, but first companies have to figure out where they draw the line when it comes to weighing data sharing against consumer privacy.

Now that dilemma is heating up: Citing three unnamed sources, The Information reported this week that Amazon is considering whether to provide full conversation transcripts to Alexa developers. This would be a major change from Amazon’s current policy in which the company only provides basic information—such as the total number of users, the average number of actions they’ve performed, and rates of success or failure for voice commands. Amazon declined to comment to The Information regarding the claims, but the change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google’s voice assistant platform already provides full transcripts to developers.

The potential move by Amazon underscores how it is caught between two worlds with its Alexa assistant, especially in regards to privacy. By keeping transcripts to itself, Amazon can better protect against the misuse of its customers’ data and avoid concerns about eavesdropping. But because Alexa already gives developers the freedom to build virtually any kind of voice skill, their inability to see what customers are saying becomes a major burden.

. . . .

With Google Assistant, developers can view a transcript for any conversation with their particular skill. Uber, for example, can look at all recorded utterances from the moment you ask for a car until the ride is confirmed. (It can’t, however, see what you’ve said to other apps and services.) Google’s own documentation confirms this, noting that developers can request “keyboard input or spoken input from end user” during a conversation.

For developers, this data can be of immense utility. It allows them to find out if users are commonly speaking in the wrong syntax, or asking to do things that the developer’s voice skill doesn’t support.

. . . .

In terms of sharing data with developers, Apple’s Siri voice assistant is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Google. Developers who work with SiriKit get no information about usage from Apple, not even for basic things like how many people use voice commands to access an app, or which voice commands are most commonly used.

. . . .

But keep in mind that Siri’s approach to third-party development is entirely different from that of Google and Amazon. Instead of letting developers build any kind of voice application, Apple only supports third-party voice commands in a handful of specific domains, such as photo search, workouts, ride hailing, and messaging. And instead of letting those apps drive the conversation, Apple controls the back-and-forth itself. The apps merely provide the data and some optional on-screen information.

Because these apps don’t communicate with users directly, there’s no need for them to have conversation transcripts in the first place. Instead, Apple can look at what users are trying to accomplish and use that data to expand Siri on its own.

The downside to this approach is that Siri just isn’t as useful as other virtual assistants.

Link to the rest at Fast Company 

If PG lived in China, he would be inclined not to use Alexa.

Dear Apple, Please Don’t Give Up on iBooks in iOS 11

21 June 2017

From The Mac Observer:

Here are some ideas I have to improve iBooks in iOS 11, because I want to see it succeed. As an avid reader, I was disappointed that there was nary a mention of iBooks at WWDC 2017. I’m not just talking about the app, I’m referring to Apple’s eBook ecosystem as a whole. I think improvements can be made in both areas, and that Apple could give iBooks a bigger presence in physical Apple stores.

. . . .

When it comes to books—or any type of content—the two most important features for people are discovery and sharing. The App Store is getting a major redesign in iOS 11, one designed to make it easier to discover new apps and games. I’d love to see Apple bring the same attention to iBooks. A new UI could feature eBooks and audiobooks in new ways and make it easier for readers to figure out what to read next.

. . . .

Now, to the iBookstore ecosystem. Apple should make it easier to self-publish on iBooks. I’ve never personally used the iBooks Author app, but the consensus among many users is that it produces gorgeous books, but is difficult to use. Apple should also take a cue from Amazon and make iBooks the premier platform for self-publishing. While it’s possible to self-publish on iBooks today, the process is not as easy as it is on Amazon Kindle.

. . . .

Currently, iBooks has a “More Books You Might Like” section under the Featured tab, but the suggestions are awful and I almost never browse through them. Using machine learning, Apple could scan my iBooks purchases and recommend books based on genre, popularity or other factors. Apple may already be doing this—or something like it—but recommendations on iBooks needs to improve.

Link to the rest at The Mac Observer

Amazon Has a Few Things to Say About Apple’s HomePod

8 June 2017

From PC Magazine:

Apple made its long-awaited debut into the smart home space at WWDC this week, announcing its $349 Apple HomePod connected speaker with Siri. At the Wired Business Conference today in New York City, the exec behind Alexa—Amazon’s SVP of Devices David Limp—explained how he thinks Apple’s connected speaker fits into the landscape.

There’s plenty of talk about pitting the features, pricing, and specs of Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home against one another. For Limp, the first thing that stands out about the HomePod is its price.

“It’s definitely a premium product at $350,” said Limp. “From our standpoint, it’s a little different philosophically from how we’re looking at Echo. We see these endpoints for assistants in every room. One of the reasons we came out with the Echo Dot was getting the price to under $50. If you think about putting an Echo in every room times a two-room apartment or an eight-room home…compared to $350 for HomePod you could have eight Dots with our three-pack.”

. . . .

“The second thing we learned [aside from pricing] is that people’s taste in speakers are unbelievably personal,” Limp argued. “It’s like cars. What you like in terms of the bass response, someone else may hate because they listen to classical music and focus on the treble.

“You might like Bose, they might like Sonos,” he continued. “Dot and Echo through Bluetooth and Audio Out can connect to other speakers. A Dot with the speaker of your choice seems like the right path for consumers. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple comes to the same conclusion.”

. . . .

“Our hope and our first efforts are to open up the environment with skills to augment Alexa. Over time you could imagine saying something like ‘Hey Alexa, ask Siri this.'”

Limp said that’s a very real use case, and that the differences between Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant ultimately shouldn’t stop that kind of integration in the future. Amazon’s stance is that it’s open to integrations and making sure its software works with anyone’s hardware.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

PG says he’s using Echo and Echo Dot in different ways around Casa PG since he bought more than one. The more places where he can access Alexa, the more he talks to Alexa. (Like asking Alexa when the next Chicago Cubs game is.)

How Apple Sees the Near Future

6 June 2017

From The Atlantic:

Without once saying the words “artificial intelligence,” a stream of Apple executives described a vision of the near future in which Siri, the company’s AI avatar, stitches together the company’s many hardware products.

And they introduced a new—and widely anticipated—entry into their lineup: a $349 cylindrical voice-controlled speaker they call HomePod.

After a strangely dystopian video in which Apple’s apps go away and the world plunges into post-apocalyptic violence, Apple CEO Tim Cook led off the company’s keynote at its big gathering for coders, the Worldwide Developers Conference, in San Jose.

The WWDC keynote tends to be a place where Apple showcases all the little incremental “refinements” they are making to their software and hardware. This year, however, there was a thread that ran through many presentations: Siri.

Through the demonstrations and talks, Apple’s vision for Siri became clearer: It is an all-purpose stand-in for predictive, helpful intelligence across all Apple devices. “Siri isn’t just a voice assistant,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior VP of software engineering. “With Siri intelligence, it understands context. It understands your interests. It understands how you use your device. It understands what you want next.”

For example, Federighi said, imagine you’re planning a trip to Iceland. Siri might suggest stories about Iceland within the news app or even suggest the spelling for a difficult Icelandic place name. (Perhaps she’ll suggest some Björk for your HomePod, even.)

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Apple Is Manufacturing a Siri Speaker to Outdo Google and Amazon

31 May 2017

From Bloomberg:

 Apple Inc. is already in your pocket, on your desk and underneath your television. Soon, a device embossed with “Designed by Apple in California” may be on your nightstand or kitchen counter as well.

The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.

The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Homespeakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.

Introducing a speaker would serve two main purposes: providing a hub to automate appliances and lights via Apple’s HomeKit system, and establishing a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into Apple’s network of services. That would help combat the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: the Home and Echo mostly don’t support services from Apple. Without compatible hardware, users may be more likely to opt for the Echo or Home, and therefore use streaming music offerings such as Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Google Play rather than Apple Music.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG says competition keeps competitors sharp and is great for consumers.

Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us

12 May 2017

From The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, I bought a new television. When the whole process was over, I realized something incredible: To navigate all of the niggling details surrounding this one commercial transaction — figuring out what to buy, which accessories I needed, how and where to install it, and whom to hire to do so — I had dealt with only a single ubiquitous corporation: Amazon.

It wasn’t just the TV. As I began combing through other recent household decisions, I found that in 2016, nearly 10 percent of my household’s commercial transactions flowed through the Seattle retailer, more by far than any other company my family dealt with. What’s more, with its Echos, Fire TV devices, audiobooks, movies and TV shows, Amazon has become, for my family, more than a mere store. It is my confessor, my keeper of lists, a provider of food and culture, an entertainer and educator and handmaiden to my children.

. . . .

This is the most glaring and underappreciated fact of internet-age capitalism: We are, all of us, in inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of my old friends the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

The five are among the most valuable companies on the planet, collectively worth trillions.

. . . .

 [L]ast week I came up with a fun game: If an evil, tech-phobic monarch forced you to abandon each of the Frightful Five, in which order would you do so, and how much would your life deteriorate as a result?

. . . .

When I went through the thought experiment, I found that dropping the first couple of tech giants was pretty easy — but after that the process became progressively more unbearable. For me, Facebook was the first to go. I tend to socialize online using Twitter, Apple’s messaging system, and Slack, the office-chat app, so losing Mark Zuckerberg’s popular service (and its subsidiaries, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) was not such a big deal.

Next, for me, was Microsoft, which I found slightly more difficult to quit. I don’t normally use any Windows devices, but Microsoft’s word-processing program, Word, is an essential tool for me, and I’d hate to lose it.

In third place, full of regrets: Apple. There’s nothing I use more than my iPhone, and close behind are my MacBook and iMac 5K, which may be the best computer I’ve ever owned. Abandoning Apple would prompt deep and truly annoying rearrangements in my life, including braving Samsung’s bad software. But I could do it, grudgingly.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Apple cuts App Store affiliate commission from 7% to 2.5%

25 April 2017

From TechCrunch:

Apple just sent an email to members of the App Store affiliate program saying that App Store commissions will be reduced from 7 percent to 2.5 percent on May 1st — that’s a 64 percent cut. While this change will have no effect on App Store users, it has some implications on the App Store ecosystem.

Many websites from the Apple community link to App Store downloads with a unique referral ID in the link. When customers buy apps or in-app purchases using this link, Apple gives back a small cut to its affiliate partner. Developers still get 70 percent of the sale while partners get incentivized.

. . . .

For a $1 app, this affiliate commission is just a few cents. But it can add up if you’ve built a serious audience. And I know this because I’ve experienced this myself.

. . . .

Our little website got something like 15,000 readers per month. And we made hundreds of euros in the first few months with App Store commissions and a Google ad near the bottom of the page. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun little way to make some money as a kid who didn’t want to work during summer break.

. . . .

If Apple drastically cuts this revenue stream, the company could end up alienating people writing for those sites. But it could also indicate that some bigger App Store changes are coming soon.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

Next Page »