I’ve never understood why people position Apple and Amazon as rivals in the ebook game. While it’s true that the two have clashed that conflict is a result of incompatible platform goals, not rivalry.
Conflict is not rivalry and two organisations that conflict occasionally may well be allies in the bigger picture where rivals may not.
Let me elucidate…
The Apple/Amazon conflict has presented itself in a variety of ways:
- Direct competition. Apple entered the ebook retail game and broke the law when it enabled big publishers’ price collusion.
- App restrictions. Apple prevents vendors from integrating ebook sales into their ebook reading apps.
- Apple entered the proprietary format game by forking EPUB with iBooks Author books.
—How can you say those two aren’t rivals? I mean look at that!
Easy. These conflicts are not a result of an Apple/Amazon rivalry but of Apple’s ambitions for its platform.
Apple wants three things for iOS:
- Lock in. It very much doesn’t want people to be able to switch easily to Android. (This is abundantly clear from the emails published as a part of the DOJ’s investigation into agency pricing.) An iBooks ebook platform that only works on Apple devices serves that end goal nicely.
- It wants its platform vig. Apple would rather a digital transaction not take place at all than for it to take place on iOS and it not getting its cut.
- It wants large-scale education contracts for iPads in schools. For that it needs textbooks and, since it wants its vig, it can’t just work with one of the existing vendors.
None of these things are specifically directed at Amazon except insofar as they are the biggest ebook vendor. Apple can’t claim it is doing these things out of concern for the consumer or in an attempt to make its platform more secure against fraud. If that were the case hey would have done what Google did with its Play Developer Program Policies: on Google Play services and cross-platform digital goods such as ebooks are specifically exempt from the requirement that apps use Google Play’s in-app billing service.
—Okay, okay. So, maybe Apple isn’t specifically targeting Amazon but there’s still conflict. I don’t see how you can claim that Apple is Amazon’s biggest ally.
Because Amazon is the default choice for ebooks. It is what your average consumer first thinks of when somebody mentions ebooks. They have a mindshare that is even bigger than their marketshare (which is big enough to begin with).
Amazon isn’t hurt at all by Apple’s demands. A reader who can’t buy an ebook in the Kindle app will just go to the website. It only hurts the Kindle app for iOS development team.
Apple’s demands hurt Amazon’s true rivals—other ebook vendors—much more that they hurt Amazon. These vendors would benefit enormously from being able to directly integrate ebookstores into their apps. They even have a standard that would let any vendor offer their ebook catalogue for sale within any ebook reading app: OPDS.
The EPUB faction of the ebook world is hurt more by Apple forking the standard and by its general platform behaviour than Amazon is. Apple’s tactics have weakened the standard and made it less competitive.
If Apple added an exemption for ebooks to their developer policies, something similar to Google’s exemption, we’d get a more competitive landscape for ebooks on iOS. If Apple went all in on EPUB, extending it instead of forking it when necessary, the modularised EPUB ecosystem would be stronger for it. If Apple made ebook development tools that targeted EPUB and not a proprietary format, the non-Amazon side of ebook retail would have more diversity of titles and would be more competitive. If Apple turned iBooks into an iBooksView, a general purpose widget for rendering ebooks, every single ebook app on the platform would improve as a result.
Doing all of these things would strengthen iOS by improving the apps available for the platform. That, in and of itself, should be enough reason for Apple to do so.
But, no. Apple wants lock-in and a vig.