I updated the software on my iPod Touch over the weekend (and *man* it took a long time). But this morning, after a newsflash from TeleRead, I downloaded and installed the (free) Stanza iPod application from the iTunes store, which is exactly why I ran the upgrade.
Crucially – see below – Stanza (which also has a good desktop version for Mac users) supports the ePub standard. (ePub has been “adopted” by a growing number of the publishers who are digitising content – although they are of course hedging their bets with “support” for any other number of standards and formats and DRM options).
In other words, getting digitised content onto the iPhone for Stanza shouldn’t technically be a problem, although availability is another issue.
What is interesting about this coming out today is the growing feeling of a tipping point happening with ebooks, although not coming from where one would have expected it. Rather than Apple themselves adding ebook software and distribution to the iPod/iPhone (or a new device), they have simply outsourced the job, and let the market produce one, or many such options. And by doing this very easy thing, they have got the jump on Amazon, Sony, Iliad, Borders, Waterstones – everyone.
Let’s get this straight – ebooks and the iPhone / iTouch are very good friends at the moment, and it may be that Apple is making the most popular iPhone an ereader by stealth.
Last week we read that almost 8% of iTunes “applications” for the new iPhone are reported to be ebooks, and the entertainment division of the iTunes store is stuffed with (out of copyright) books being sold.
The question for me is – when will the first (UK?) publisher break ranks and upload the first frontlist title in ePub to the Apple store, without DRM, and at a sensible price?
If / when a publisher is brave enough to do this, not only will they gain a huge amount of good PR, they may also break open the floodgates for using iPhone / iTunes as an electronic book platform. (As we know, publishers are quite good at copying one another when a competitor makes a new announcement). Of course, they’d stuff up all of their secret deals to wrap their content in proprietary DRM’d formats with their existing customers, but we may actually see a viable market emerge.
If such a thing happened, it would make a mockery of the need for an expensive, crippled, dedicated device such as the Sony reader, which as luck would have it, the Indy broke news of this morning: Waterstones to sell Sony Reader in September.
It would also further marginalise the overwhelmingly underwhelming release of the Iliad through Borders. Note that neither Sony / Waterstones or Borders / Iliad has an effective, trusted, and “adopted” retail infrastructure for selling eBooks. It would also put Amazon’s Kindle launch in the UK under more pressure.
Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t need to manufacture such a device or channel: it exists. iTunes is the perfect channel for getting ebooks onto iPhones, and is on millions of computers worldwide. There is no adoption curve.
So, if Stanza can support ePub; and publishers are supporting ePub, and iTunes can support the sale of products on behalf of third parties – why isn’t every UK publisher rushing to get its books into ePub on iTunes?