As a veteran of the digital publishing era (slightly depressing at my age) one question has persistently bothered me. It’s about the limited routes to market for publishers. It’s not, “why does Amazon have such market share?” That answer is pretty obvious – innovative, aggressive, admirable focus. Instead, we should be asking is: why Apple and Google (two of the biggest companies in the world) only sell somewhere in the region of 8% of book publishers’ eBooks?
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In 2007 and 2010 Apple released the iconic and genuinely groundbreaking iPhone and iPad devices. Heralding an era of unforeseen mobility and connectivity, these devices would immediately redefine personal communication and computing.
With an intense focus on quality and the customer experience, Apple has emerged as the premiere luxury brand in the world. They may produce fantastic hardware but in many ways they are selling a lifestyle, as evident in unprecedented consumer demands and queues, as well as socio-economic trends.
But the key here is that Apple has always been about selling hardware and devices that enable creativity and progress rather than content. Apple’s current mission statement starts with the line, “We believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing.” Content is important to Apple only insofar as it helps to sell and sustain hardware.
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So for Apple, there is not a compelling, core reason to sell books. They are happy to let others sell eBooks through their app store – and gain 30% commission on sales for little effort.
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Google on the other hand is the company I expect more from. Their official, oft-quoted mantra is “Do no Evil,” but it’s mission is actually stated to be “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s philosophy is a world of transparency and collaboration– open source, the collective, the universal struggle for betterment and progress. As part of that mission there are now over 1.4 billion active android devices worldwide.
Yet why does more than 1 billion devices worldwide, in all socioeconomic strata and often most dominant in emerging markets, only account for 6% of publishers’ sales typically? Unlike Apple, Google does not have a compelling reason to prefer hardware over content. They do benefit greatly from Android license fees, but they generally suck when it comes to hardware (note the poor performance of the Nexus lines of phones and tablets as well as the failed Google Glass).
In actuality, their fierce defiance on the Google Book Library project and their willingness to battle for what they believe to be the necessary accessibility of humanity to knowledge and education seems to further contradict their poor bookselling performance.
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In my time in the industry I’ve come to this somewhat depressing conclusion: Neither Apple nor Google really care about books.
What I mean is that part of Amazon’s success and dominance is predicated on Jeff Bezos’ genius, his uncanny ability to see “a bookstore as a means to world domination.” In Apple and Google’s case books are a small line item for companies focused on hardware and advertising respectively.
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Ultimately, what Amazon achieved through Kindle was to give those people who are educated and have disposable income a simple entry point to e-commerce: books. Way ahead of its time, Amazon focused on gaining market share ahead of exclusivity, prestige or a higher purpose. It wanted user’s credit card details because it believed it could build a better commerce experience and value proposition on the back of loyal customers and scale.
Apple have been focused on your point of sale dollars for hardware. Google by its very DNA doesn’t generally share this aggressive, mercurial streak.
Link to the rest at Vearsa and thanks to William for the tip.