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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Off-the-Cuff: Apple vs. Amazon

I didn’t think they’d do it, but I was wrong. Apple is putting the screws to Amazon and other companies, who have used former loopholes to get around Apple’s onerous demand for a 30% commission on “in-app” purchases, for iPad applications. A lot of people have been asking variations on the same question, what does it mean to Amazon and the Kindle app?

That’s the wrong question. The real question is, how many people use an iPad (or iPhone) as their primary eBook reader? As someone who has both a Kindle and an iPad, the only times I have used the iPad to read a book were: 1) When the Kindle screen went Tango Uniform and I was waiting for the replacement; 2) To check the ePub version of my White Pickups draft.

Yes, part of that is because the iPad gets passed around from hand to hand pretty much all day long — if M.A.E.’s not using it to check Facebook or play Angry Birds, it’s Lobster doing the same thing, or it’s Mrs. Fetched playing Mahjongg solitaire. Once in a while, I’ll use it to check Twitter or blogs, or play a round of Angry Birds or solitaire, but I don’t do much reading on it. The Kindle is so much better for that — the screen is easier on the eyes, it’s lighter, and the battery life is better (even though the iPad is no slouch in the battery department itself). In the iPad’s favor, it’s largely format-agnostic, able to read Kindle, Nook, and pretty much everyone else’s eBooks.

I remember all the pronouncements about how the iPad was going to destroy the eBook reader market, but it hasn’t quite turned out that way. Kindle hardware sales are thriving, with B&N’s Nook line running a distant but respectable second, and Sony and Kobo fighting over who will challenge Nook for the #2 spot later on. Apple’s iBookstore is there, but it’s far behind the Kindle Store in sales and probably brings up the rear behind B&N.com and Smashwords. And I don’t think Apple cares all that much. If they did, they’d talk up the eBook reading aspect a lot more in their advertising.

So why is Apple demanding a 30% cut of everything? I can see it for apps — Apple maintains the App Store, paying for the server farms that run it, dealing with payments, and keeping the front end (i.e. the web site) running smoothly. But when we’re talking about buying eBooks through the Kindle and Nook apps, Apple isn’t out of pocket for any of that. There’s something else going on here.

Personally, I think it’s a negotiating position. There’s a popular school of thought that says to ask for the moon in the initial round of negotiations, so you can “compromise” a lot and still get what you really wanted to begin with. Google responded with OnePass, which takes “only” a 10% cut, and I expect that Apple will match it or even undercut it by their self-imposed June 30 deadline for app providers. Credit card companies take 2.5%, so I expect that everyone will head that way sooner or later. Competition or antitrust action, either way things will improve.


  1. I agree that it is a negotiating stance. Now we shall see if they can resist negotiating against themselves in the face of all the public criticism or will back off the stance

  2. With Google announcing they will seek to only take 10%, instead of the 70% Apple ask for, is there the potential for content creators to promote Android further knowing they will make more money off of the sales? Also, what do Kindle charge? Finally, will this prevent the trip the Amazon Kindle iOS app does where it redirects to a webpage when attempting to purchase a book through the app?

  3. Hiya FAR,

    Since I don't have any type of a reader, I guess I don't too much of what's going on with those. Maybe one day.

  4. Hey all!

    Mary, there's rare precedent on our side. Some years back, Apple raised computer retail prices in the face of declining prices elsewhere, then rescinded the hikes when customers and users (and fans) protested. I think they'll back off, but probably will hold off until June.

    New Buffalo, welcome to the free-range insane asylum! Actually, Apple is taking 30% not 70. I'm not sure, but I would expect developers will vote with their wallets and go with the 10% commission offered by OnePass (another reason I expect Apple to back down). The Kindle store gets a 30% commission on book sales when in a certain price range, I think $2.99 to $7, but again they're maintaining the store so that's not out of line. And yes, the new Apple rules prohibit the loophole that Amazon used, redirecting to the web-based store.

    FM, once you have some books loaded into the e-reader, you don't have to get off the couch to get another book when you finish one. It's the slackerly way to go!

    Thanks everyone for the comments, and keep 'em coming!

  5. It's not like Apple couldn't afford to back down a bit with Verizon Wireless iPhone sales booming. Madame boran just recently got a 7 inch tablet, android powered. It can function as an ebook reader, and can directly access the android store, a much larger outlet than itunes. And with less restrictions on developers.

  6. "Damn Apple," she says, running her fingertips loveingly over the soft polished steel of her MacBook Pro.

  7. Hey all!

    Boran, I agree, and I think they will. You know the drill: huff and puff on both sides, people threatening lawsuits, and finally a press release containing the phrase "it was never our intent…" :-P

    Cathy, welcome to the free-range insane asylum! I have a black MacBook, although I made work buy me a MacBook Pro a few years back. Hope you stick around, I have my #FridayFlash queued up for tomorrow… not to mention some longer works.

  8. Which version of Mahjongg solitaire do you have on your iPad?

  9. Hi Old Miser. It's Midnight Mahjongg. There's a free version some a few different games, but the full-size one is 99 cents.


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