Thursday, 26 January 2012

iBooks and KF8 - Learning about Apple and Amazon

The last ten days have seen the release of the new iBook Author program from Apple and a new version of KindleGen from Amazon, each producing eBooks to their own proprietory standard, iBooks and KF8.

How they've gone about this though, reveals much about the companies and their approaches to this market.

Apple launched iBooks almost two years ago now with some ballyhoo, but have never really made a dent in Amazon's market share. The Nook might have done, and Kobo has nibbled a piece here or there, but Apple? Not so much.

So they flipped the strategy with iBA. Keep the lockin (iBooks only available and readable through Apple devices/channels), but provide better tools for publishers/authors and target a different market - textbooks. Instead of trying to convince the consumer, they're deciding to convince the supplier. It's the "killer app" strategy.

And you have to say, the samples they've put out are stunning. The EO Wilson "Life on Earth" really does redefine textbooks. By all accounts iBA is also a great tool. The backlash has been about the Apple walled garden and restrictions about the sale of works produced by the tool. I don't really understand much of this reaction - Apple is a business, not a university or library. If the Library of Congress produced a proprietory tool, then I'd get the outrage.

So, if you want to play Apple's game, there is now a compelling workflow from production to distribution, with QA thrown in along the way. Slick, if you can live with the terms.

Amazon launched KF8 then in to a market it dominates, working from a position of strength. But the KF8 launch has been confusing. The specs were announced in October, and missed elements like audio and video, present in mobi files as well as Apple's iBooks. The Fire launched in the US in mid-November, with some books being demo'd that had been made to the KF8 standard, so some publishers had access to the tools. Then last week, the tools were announced, but the guidelines were incomplete (since updated), but the Fire is still US-only and the Apps haven't been updated. So, although we now have the tools, there's nothing for us to target and test on outside of the US. And even there, do you just want the Fire as your entire potential market?

So it feels like a mess. Simultaneously late and rushed.

What these two launches tell me is that Amazon is not a technology company. Sure, it uses technology better than almost anyone, and it even re-sells spare capacity in a way that has changed the technology landscape (EC2, S3), but a real technology company understands developers.

And make no mistake, if you're in the business of ebook production, you're now a developer.

Amazon has the market right now, but, as Steve Ballmer memorably once said "It's about developers, developers, developers!". He may, at that point, have thrown a chair.

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