It had to happen sometime.
Apple has, until now, not put a foot wrong with its iPad. The simple, sleek device has found its way into just about any application in life you could think of.
When you go to school, or university, you could well end up with an iPad. When you walk into a café or retail shop, the friendly staff might well be on hand with iPads to help make your shopping experience a pleasant one.
It has been praised as the saviour for print media. Heck, you can even get an iPad thrown in when you buy a car.
But then came the formal launch of the iBookstore in Australia. The publishers behind the launch are a good bunch – Hachette, Murdoch Books, HarperCollins, Hardie Grand, Macmillian and Wiley, and it does give us a reason to pay attention to that dull iBooks app that we had previously used to access the Project Guttenberg catalogue and download Shakespeare in Spanish.
But is this launch the first big mistake for the iPad? Books, and the potential for the iPad to be an Amazon Kindle killer, were initially lauded as one of the big selling points for people looking for reading on the go.
But wandering through the in-app bookstore, I found myself disappointed. JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings costs $28. John Howard’s biography, Lazarus Rising, $33. Portia De Rossi’s biography, Unbearable Lightness, $18. Children’s literature hit (and now major Hollywood motion picture), Tomorrow When the War Began, $15.
These are full-priced books. For this money, you can walk into Dymocks and buy a hard copy version of it.
Meanwhile, over at the Kindle e-book store: Stieg Larsson’s mega-hit, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, $5.21. Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, $9.67. For anyone interested in American politics, you can pick up Dinesh D’Souza’s Roots of Obama’s Rage for $10. $15 is the upper limit for Kindle store e-books, and those that go over are the type of academic books or research papers that retail for prices normal people would never bother with.
Neither e-book shop is perfect in terms of the range of books available for purchase (iBookstore only has a few publishers, in the grand scheme of things, and Lord of the Rings, as well as many Australian books aren’t actually available on the Kindle e-store), but Kindle only found its niche in the bibliophile world by being less expensive than physical books.
Given it also provides a better dedicated reading experience than the iPad, I’m not sure what Apple and the book publishers can expect from the iBookstore. Reading is a personal experience, and the culture of owning physical books has only diminished over time as the price of those books has increased.
For instance, in Japan, where books are still dirt-cheap and you still see people with books on public transport, e-readers have had considerably less success than they have in the west.
Books are not music, where the convenience of having a few hundred hours of music on a tiny portable device is for many preferable to having a bag full of CDs and a relatively bulky portable CD player, and the sound quality is sufficient for most people with digital formats.
Given the choice between a physical copy of a book, and an inferior reading experience that will cost the same on the iPad, I imagine most people will chose the former.
Granted – there are some bargains to be found on the iBookstore (like any retail bookstore), but if Apple and the book publishers were hoping iPad owners will fill the device’s memory with a library of e-books, I suspect they will be ultimately disappointed.
While Amazon continues to talk up how its digital books on Kindle are outselling physical copies, Apple and the book publishers has placed themselves in direct competition with retail bookstores. This might be one battle it can’t win.