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The End of Ebooks

Three Questions as I Head for Tools of Change (TOC)

Picture 1It's time for our Tools of Change (TOC) conference.  I'm heading to NY and an looking forward to taking in as many of the sessions as possible.  Before I head east though, I thought I'd share a few industry-related items that are on my mind:

Where are all the in-app purchase/subscription apps for the iPhone?  This was supposed to be one of the major features of an iPhone OS update last year, so how come I have zero apps using the model on my iPhone?  I'm sure some apps with this functionality exist, but how obscure are they?  Where are the big magazines and newspapers?  I use the free New York Times app but I'd gladly pay for a feature as simple as sending me the entire edition (as opposed to forcing me to retrieve each article separately).  I've purposely avoided renewing some print magazine subscriptions, figuring apps are right around the corner.  Wrong!  What an enormous missed revenue opportunity.

iPad: To buy, or not to buy?  Several friends and family members have asked me if I plan to buy an iPad.  My answer: If you're in the publishing business, can you really afford not to buy one?  I waited about 8 months to get a Kindle and, despite the fact that I'm now abandoning that platform, I wish I would have bought one sooner.  Owning both a Kindle and an iPhone has enabled me to appreciate the user experience and think more about what features are useful, missing, etc.  I figure the iPad adoption rate will be higher than the Kindle's but lower than the iPhone's, so how much sense does it make to sit on the sidelines for this one?

What can we learn from radio?  Owning an iPhone causes you to wonder even more about the future of radio.  I'm not talking about the fact that the device holds all my music.  I'm talking about the radio apps that make the clunky thing on your nightstand or in your car dash seem so old-fashioned.  One good example is AOL Radio, which lets me listen to stations I can't pick up with an antenna.  But while you could argue that radio is dying, use of these apps indicates the content is finding a new way to customers, many of which are well outside the station's traditional reach.

As this USA Today article notes, "Those high-powered smartphones that can access the Web from virtually anywhere may be the best thing that's happened in years to one of the oldest and most beleaguered of traditional media: radio."  I find myself listening to more radio now than ever before, but it's almost always from my phone.  If stations are smart, they'll build apps that do much more than just tune in to the live broadcast.  Why not offer recording capabilities too, turning my iPhone into a TiVo for radio?  What lessons from the radio might apply to the book publishing business?

Speaking of radio, I was an XM customer until a year or two ago.  I loved XM at first, mostly because it allowed me to go well beyond the limited AM/FM offerings here in Indiana.  I was hooked for a couple of years and then tossed it aside, partly because I discovered so many better alternatives on my iPhone.  Sound familiar?  That's pretty much what's happened to my early fascination with the Kindle.  Is the Kindle our industry's XM Radio?


Kari Freudenberger

I like your comparison of the Kindle to XM radio. I have always said the Kindle will go the way of the Palm Pilot. I own an iPhone and I'm looking forward to the iPad because it is another multi-functional device. The Kindle was a great catalyst, but I don't think it has staying power.

Joseph A. di Paolantonio

Joe, long time, no comment ;-)

for in-app subscription purchases for the iPhone platform, check out Pixel Mag (just a bad PDF reader with page-turning animation), Zenio and (still in the AppStore review cycle)

XM Radio remains relevant because of its content. It doesn't just "go beyond" local AM/FM--it has (or had) many exclusive stations: MLB, NFL, Howard Stern, Oprah, etc. Some of those same stations are now available via their respective websites and as iPhone apps, but I wouldn't count XM Radio out of the game yet.

The Kindle, meanwhile, is still in the process of landing big name content providers as exclusives. Stephen King debuted a short story, "UR", in Kindle's e-bookstore. Stephen Covey and other authors are offering older works as Kindle e-bookstore exclusives. But until a Stephen King or a Stephen Covey gives up writing for a traditional publisher and signs a Howard Stern-like exclusive contract for their next full-length book, I don't think the XM Radio comparison is apt.

Sarah Chapman

XmRadio I don't think can compete with Kindle on a practical as well as commercial basis. It doesn't have the formidable amazon machine. I'm published with schiel and denver, just about to make my book available on Kindle - - feel I'm going to wait. great blog.

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