Apple’s 10 Billion…eBooks?

Apple iTunes Store Sells 10 Billion Songs

Ten billion. That’s how many songs have been legally downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store.

This is what that looks like: 10,000,000,000

If it look impressive, that’s because it is. And it is significant because it may represent a small victory in the war over digital piracy. Apple has made it easy and affordable to buy music (something the record industry didn’t do themselves). As a result, people have paid money for stuff that they can easily steal.

If you own an iPod, iPhone or some other Apple device, you know that the Apple iTunes Store is really, really easy to use. Plus, they sell more than just music. You can get movies and TV shows as well.

As the iPad comes out, Apple will begin to roll out ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and other new media content. It’s going to be a broad range of materials, many of which will be purchased by the download. (Currently there is no subscription model.)

From a content perspective, this is a huge opportunity. People have grown used to getting content for free on websites. Few websites have managed to get money out of their visitors. Marvel Digital and Disney Digital have online subscription models, but those are premiere brands with highly exclusive content resources and characters.

As the iPad hits the streets, Apple is going to be working hard to get you to pay for content. Amazon already gets people to pay for ebooks and blogs on the Kindle, so there is a segment of the population prepared to pay for content.

No, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking forward to paying for stuff that I am getting free today, but that’s how it goes. Only so many websites and publishers can survive on the freemium model. Eventually someone is going to have to pay.

Sure, there will always be people who figure out a way to get stuff for free. In fact, many pirates don’t rip DVDs and MP3s because they want the media. They do it because they enjoy the challenge of cracking the code or beating the system. (And DRM doesn’t seem to work.)

With ereaders like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, publishers are going to have to figure out a way to get people to buy digital books and magazines. Free is not a sustainable business model for most publishers. As the music industry will attest, it’s not going to be easy, but it is possible to get people to pay for media.

Price them right, make them easy to get, and maybe in a few years I’ll be blogging about how there were 10 billion ebooks sold on the Apple store.

LINKS – NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

iPad – Content, Marketing & Comics

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

If you’re a Macintosh fan or a Steve Jobs zombie (Jobzie?) today was like Christmas. Maybe even better. Today, as if you didn’t know already, Apple finally announced the long-awaited tablet device “iPad.”

If you follow this blog, you know that I primarily talk about content, interactive media, and marketing. Oh yeah, and occasionally comic books. So let’s talk about what the iPad means for each of my favorite topics:

  • Content: Well, as I’ve said before, it all comes down to content. The best device in the world will only go so far on mediocre content. Touch screens are cool, but they need to be worth the extra cost.
    Positive: As usual, Apple fully delivers on the iPad. Right out of the gate, you’ll be able to tap into the iTunes store for eBooks, videos, games, and music. Plus there’s probably a lot more content on the way. You can buy the iPad knowing that Apple will provide plenty of content in full, brilliant multimedia and color.
    Negative: It’s hard not to compare the iPad to the Kindle when it comes to reading ebooks. At this point, it looks like Kindle’s e-ink has an advantage over the iPad’s screen. It’s just nicer to read books on a reflective surface, as opposed to an active matrix display. Sorry, color just isn’t that important for the enjoyment of text, particularly long-form prose.
  • Interactive media: We’re now in a society where we fully expect to be able to interact with a certain amount of media. And Apple doesn’t disappoint here. The iPad is packed with nifty new tech that will allow us to touch, drag, scale, and game. We are at the tip of the creative iceberg, and it’s exciting to just dream about the amazing applications that will take advantage of the iPad platform.
    Positive: What’s not to like? It’s going to revolutionize gaming and allow you to take your fun wherever you go. As a parent, I love portable movies and games. Apps are what made the iPhone special, and the same tech will work on the iPad. Nice.
    Negative: It looks like I may have to re-purchase movies that I have on DVD so they play on the iPad. Something tells me I will be buying a lot of stuff to feed my iPad.
  • Marketing: At the core, Apple is an electronics manufacturer, but somehow they have managed to position themselves miles above the rest of the industry. Their brand is huge. No other manufacturer can launch a product quite like Apple. Plus Steve Jobs knows how to give a presentation. If you’re a marketer, take a close look at your lame PowerPoint decks and ask yourself if you can somehow do better. (You can.) Apple’s marketing is a brilliant mix of art, science, and magic. This is what they should study in universities.
    Positive: Apple breaks many marketing rules, but somehow they make it work. We can all learn from them when it comes to branding and event marketing. Apple makes it look easy, even though they are probably working like mad in the days leading up to the event.
    Negative: What they do as marketers isn’t really taught in school. And try as they may, very few marketers can match their magic formula for generating excitement around product launches. But is this really a negative? Nah, it gives us marketers an achievement goal.
  • Comics: It’s hard to say how this will affect the comic book business. Comics are already being pirated and distributed through torrents. Up until now, people had to buy printed comics to get a decent experience. Sure, you could read a pirated comic on your computer monitor, but the mechanics were wrong. Monitors are horizontal, while comics are vertical. Marvel’s Digital Comics actually give a pretty good experience, but it still required you to be sitting in front of your computer. I work in front of a computer all day, so sitting at my desk to read is a bit unappealing. Printed comics are still my favorite way to read full-color comic books. But for how long?
    Positive: The iPad could make reading comics really exciting. I would love to read my monthly titles on a nice, clear tablet. I could store them on the device (as opposed to reading them in the cloud), that would free up a lot of space in my house. Set the right price, and I will pay for a digital subscription to my favorite comics. I’m ready, let’s go.
    Negative: The pirates are already killing comics the way they nearly killed music and movies. If piracy doesn’t stop, it won’t make economic sense to create comics. Easy file sharing and torrents could kill mainstream comics as we know them today. The iPad just gives the pirates a better platform for sharing files.

So that’s it. The ‘Net and the pundits are already buzzing about the iPad. I’m going to immerse myself in the excitement and optimism.

Merry Christmas, Apple fans.

5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.