Why Apple and Gruber Are Wrong About E-books

John Gruber wrote an interesting piece about Sony’s misfortunes with Apple regarding an e-book fiasco. It was interesting, at first, but then I realized that, while Gruber was objective with his thinking, there is little (if anything) objective about the situation with Apple and Sony. It’s just wrong.

Let’s start at the beginning. Apple has taken a drastic step in its policies by refusing to allow Sony’s e-reader application into the App Store, which supposedly lets you read and purchase e-books from Sony’s Reader Store.

This is awkward because, up to this point, Barnes & Noble and Amazon have been selling e-books for the iOS platform. Granted, these two companies redirect users to a website to purchase the books, so they were not purchasing the books directly within the app itself. This, however, seemed like a decent compromise (even though I think the developers should be able to do what they want).

But Apple had second thoughts, and it seemed as if that compromise has run its course.

The New York Times chimed in and declared that Apple had gone gung ho against anyone who intended on selling e-books within the App Store. They were somewhat right. But Apple declared that they never actually changed their terms or guidelines. “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase,” as Apple pointed out.

Long story short: Apple had those guidelines but did not enforce them against the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Apple, however, now intends on enforcing these terms, and this will prevent Barnes & Noble and Amazon from selling e-books unless they use Apple’s APIs to do it, which means both companies will be giving up 30 percent of their book sales too. It’s crazy.

And as for Sony, they’re screwed.

Clarification, Please?

Isn’t it awkward that we are here, yet again, having to discuss Apple’s intentions over their terms of use? Who writes these things? Why aren’t there clear-cut guidelines for developers? It’s getting far too frustrating, and I’m not even a developer!

If each tech industry had its own racial profile, Apple would catch hell for what it has been doing. It has been against the likes of the porn industry, music industry, Web browsers, communications platforms, political satires, and far more. Yet, at the end of the day, everything we interact with on a computer comes down to ones and zeros. The irony is that we take up arms when a company like Comcast starts screwing around with those bits, but Apple gets away squeaky clean with everything.

Since when did Apple become God? (You can call me the Paul Thurrott, who is often critical and up front about Microsoft with his writings his Windows Weekly podcast, of Apple.)

But lets get back to Gruber.

Gruber Plucks A Nerve

The man behind DaringFireball managed to pluck a nerve with me because of his nonchalant attitude towards Apple’s treatment of Sony. Or in his words, because they were “late to the game” (note: I added the emphasis):

My guess is that Sony is getting hurt because they were late to the game. Amazon’s Kindle app precedes the existence of Apple’s in-app purchasing API. I thoroughly doubt Apple is going to pull the Kindle (or Nook) app from the App Store, but I’ll bet they’re already in discussions with Amazon (and Barnes & Noble) about how these apps need to change going forward. It’s easier to reject Sony’s app as a first step toward the application of new rules because Sony’s app is brand-new — Apple isn’t taking anything away from users that was previously available to them.

Give me a break, Gruber! First, you point out that it’s “easier” to reject Sony’s app. But how is it justified, really? Then you make a ridiculous statement that Apple’s actions are not taking anything away from users. How about all of those Sony e-book users who recently purchased content because they knew they were under the impression that they would be able to use their iPad with Sony’s e-book service? Is it not an inconvenience to them? Will Apple reimburse them?

Sure, Sony’s customers can still purchase books outside of the App Store, but if I was under the impression that I could soon purchase books within the iPad for Sony’s content and I owned a Sony e-reader, I would probably load up on some books too, knowing I could dump my Sony e-reader and enjoy them on the iPad instead. But now that might not be possible at all.

What about about my sister? She has been purchasing Amazon e-books non stop lately (she picked up on reading again after she received an iPad as a Christmas gift). I specifically told her that she should go ahead and purchase Amazon’s e-books because they are more aggressively priced and they will be available on her iPad. I told her that she will be able to purchase those books on her iPad.

Am I going to explain to her that soon she might have to pay a premium to Amazon because she is purchasing e-book content through her iPad, even though she can purchase those very same e-books from Amazon through the iPad’s Safari browser? She will think it is nonsense! It’s not fair to her, and it isn’t fair to anyone else.

But what is more ridiculous is that tech journalists willingly accept that this is how it is going to be, just because it is Apple. These journalists accept that — like porn, e-books, and whatever else out there — Apple can discriminate against any type of content it wants, without challenge. They accept that what Apple is doing could be considered anti-competitive and, one day, illegal.

But, in the end, all Gruber had to say about the whole thing seemed to be this:

Here’s the de facto rule, in a nut: If you have an app in the App Store, Apple gets a cut of the dough from the app.

But hold on. I thought Apple got a cut of from the app sales. Wasn’t that the whole premise of the App Store from the start? Developers pay their fee, do the programming, pay Apple 30 percent of their App’s sales, and then be on their merry way? I always thought this was how it worked. When did Apple get 30 percent of EVERYTHING an iOS app generates?

How far can Apple really take this?

For example: if an application developer directs a user to a webpage that has advertisements on it, that developers is, potentially, making money from those ads, right? Google pays those publishers, do they not? Is Apple entitled to receive 30 percent of that check? Will Apple create a stipulation where an app developer can’t direct traffic to any website where there are advertisements, because Apple isn’t getting its cut of the profits? How about affiliate programs? Does Apple get 30 percent of any sales that are indirectly gained through an iOS application?

How far?

Consumers Are The Ultimate Losers

But here is the main part that pisses me off, which also happens to be the part that Gruber failed to mention — what Apple is doing here is hurting consumers, hurting developers, and hurting competition.

Maybe an in-app API for purchasing things could make the process easier for developers and consumers, but at what cost? Why is Apple allowed to force developers to use these APIs? How would they enforce this in every situation? There are sure to be loopholes.

It is Apple’s company. It is Apple’s platform. Apple isn’t forcing consumers to buy their products. Apple isn’t forcing developers to develop on their platform. I understand that.

But are we really willing to accept that everything Apple does is in our best interest? Are we willing to let Apple really have this much control?