Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

Apple's iPad with iBooks

This column is all about trying to write about new ideas. So much writing about digital online, and trying to say something that no one else has said is tough. But this week is an easy one. One big gaping hole that I have seen under-reported, and for Australia, unreported.

Why is the Apple iBookstore so utterly devoid of books? And in Australia, it is even worse?

I’ve covered the idea of “paperless” before, but what about the nuts and bolts of the ebook market as it stands today? And in Australia?

iPads are expensive, but the cost can be better justified if you were going to put a couple of hundred towards an ebook reader. And despite a lovely reading experience – the is NOTHING to read.

Well, not nothing. But pretty close.

For the last few months, I have had dozens of books I’ve been looking to read. And absolutely none are available on iBooks. We are not talking obscure ones either.

The new Tina Fey memoir (although it seems to be up now)
Street Gang – the new book about Sesame Street
That last Woody Allen book.
The Sondheim biography.
That Tom Waits bio….
…and so on.

Not particularly obscure books. But the point is this –

I’m WANTING to buy my first ebook, and so far I haven’t been able to. I am waving my credit card at you, begging for you to take it. Why don’t you want my money?

Let’s do a quick compare – iBooks Top 10 vs Dymocks Top 10. Only one – Charlaine Harris’s Dead Reckoning – appears in both lists. The rest of it is filled up by 99c books. Repurposed classics like 1984. Not to mention a huge collection of Free books.

iBooks are developing a different audience than a bookshop. The demographics are vastly different. The e-reader base in Australia is miniscule.

But they don’t come close to replicating a bookshop experience. Where I would say iTunes covers off 90% of what you can find in a regular Sanity store – what would you say for books? 20%? 10%?

But there is a bigger story here – which is some types of books have not become digital. Specifically – anything designed for a coffee table. How is an iPad supposed to replicate that? Of those cute little novelty books at the counter.

Other types are better suited to apps. Cookbooks, travel guides and dictionaries can be bought in the App Store, not iBooks.

So iBookstore is little more than a store for novels. And there is a gap for it to expand. Magazines. Comics. Newspapers. An e-reader can handle any text. Why restrict it to one type – novels?

But even for novels, iBookstore is shockingly lacking. No Harry Potter! No JD Salinger. No “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Genre stuff like Star Wars novels. Not even Da Vinci Code. Surely if any ebook will sell, it would be evergreen sellers like the ones above?

So where the bloody hell are they?

I don’t know – but my guess is they are crippled by the same fears we saw in the music industry a decade ago.

– Cost

Digitising, en masse, costs time and money.

– Red tape

New formats come new rights, royalties and deals. Some bigger authors could be squeezing more money. Some publishers may not be able to report digital sales. There are contracts to consider.

– Fear of supporting a format that makes less money

An odd one, but big at the time for music. Why support digital, when the money is in CDs? (The reason is CDs are dying and to not be left behind, and to make more money out of fewer people)

– Artistic stand offs

Like AC/DC and Metallica, some authors might be making a stand.

– Territory rights

A big one for Australia. A book could be cleared for e-sale in the US, but they haven’t investigated Australian rights (or anyone else outside of the US), so to play it safe they don’t allow AU sales.

All this is very frustrating for the people who pay for the people making these decisions – the readers. We don’t care about that stuff. I want to buy a book for my iPad. LET ME.

Why can’t I see the iBookstore on the web? You can only access it via an iOS device. What is the point of that? Kindle’s store is online and easy.

Why is it not just part of the bigger iTunes store? Why not attract those 50 million customers you have?

And why are ebooks not much cheaper? Most new releases seem to be $20, more than an iTunes album. Looking at Fifth Witness – $23 on Dymocks, $20 at iBookstore. Bossypants – $25/$20. Seems as though it should be cheaper no? At least around the same as an album.

I’m not usually cynical, but this time, I think perhaps Apple doesn’t want people to be able to see just how awful iBookstore is. How expensive it all is. And how bad the range is.

I did finish my first ever eBook the other day. I found a digital, pirated copy of the Tina Fey memoir. I couldn’t buy it anywhere (although it’s out now).

And it was great. I got over the fear of taking out the iPad on the train. I read the end of it in a park. Readability and navigation was all fine.

One thing that did annoy me was I couldn’t do anything else with the iBooks app. Searching for new books, looking at other books, would take me out of Tina’s. Closing the program meant I needed to actually search for the Tina Fey book just to pick up where I left off.

The other problem is, once again, I have nothing to read. I am now carrying a Charlie Brooker hardcover with me everywhere I go. Didn’t I get an iPad to prevent this?

I can be forgiving. The ebook market, especially is Australia, is just terrible for everyone – not just Apple. There are so many challenges ahead.

– Sorting out rights to international books.

– Sorting out a format that can hold all kinds of book content

– Think harder about the pricing

– Building excellent stores with good selections

– Building a reader base that uses e-readers

Because right now it is horrid. To the point where there kind of is no ebook market in Australia.

And it was very, very easy for me to find a pirated copy of Tina Fey’s book. I’m sure I could find more. And once again, industry will be racing against piracy.

And if it’s anything like music, it’s the Australian book industry has to wake up fast and embrace ebooks.

(thanks to Jess for the title)

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One thought on “Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

  1. Great points all round Danny – I want an iPad for various reasons – one of which is eBooks – i’m usually carrying 3-4 books with me wherever I go and I would like that to cahnge (similarly to how I use to carry 30-40 CDs with me wherever I went before I got an iPod) – the fact that you can’t find what you want or browse the “bookstore” /”shelf” easily while open in a book is disconcerting – might push my iPad purchase back a fair few months… and pricing too!

    I want eBooks to be cheap (why shoudln’t they – no printing costs, no exorbinent shipping costs, no bricks and morter mark ups) so that when I see John Stewart interview and interesting author on an interesting subject I can buy the book for a couple of dollars straight away before I forget. So I can take a cahnce – and then if the book is worthy of the physical library I can go out an buy it properly!

    Cause no matter how awesome the eReader is – eventually, if the book is good enough, there is nothing better then curling up with it on the couch in front of the heater and feeling the thinkness and weight of the book inyour hands and the smell of musty paper 🙂

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