Monday, July 27, 2009

Apple's Absolutely Brilliant eBook Strategy

Apple joins forces with record labels
Apple is working with the four largest record labels to stimulate digital sales of albums by bundling a new interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music downloads, in a move it hopes will change buying trends on its online iTunes store.

Emphasis added by me.

And some details about that:
Apple wants to make bigger purchases more compelling by creating a new type of interactive album material, including photos, lyric sheets and liner notes that allow users to click through to items that they find most interesting. Consumers would be able to play songs directly from the interactive book without clicking back into Apple’s iTunes software, executives said.

Emphasis added by me.

That's Apple entering eBooks. Right there.

Some history to lay the groundwork for this.

In my seminal post, Steve Jobs Is Up To Something. Probably Big., I quoted Jobs. The key sentence in his dissing of the Amazon Kindle is this:
The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Emphasis added by me. Those words are the important bit.

You're Steve Jobs at Apple. You know that doing eBooks is inevitable. It's part of the ding in the universe that you know you still have to make.

But how to do it?

Saying "book" is like saying "PBS" for "TV" or "NPR" for "radio." "Book" does not say fun, exciting, engaging -- to those who do not buy books. (That's exactly how the current eBook conception is "flawed at the top.")

And those people -- those who aren't book buyers -- are a huge percentage of the customers at the iTunes Store, who are daily downloading millions and millions of fun, exciting, engaging songs and videos.

To win the eBook battle, he has to get those people to buy them.

The cliche way would be do to limp eBooks about bands and musicians. But what good would that do? They'd be instantly recognized as books.

So to grab those people, to show them what an Apple eBook will be like, Apple will use the Trojan Horse method.

Which is brilliant!

Here is that brilliance:
“It’s all about re-creating the heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music,” said one executive familiar with the plans.

If you don't understand the importance of that, let me introduce you to writer Martin Millar, who blogged about this very thing back in February: The Modern World Continues to Disappoint:
No longer having a record deck, I have records I haven't heard for many years. One of these being Hawkwind's Space Ritual, their live magnum opus from the 70s. As a young teenager, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom listening to this, nodding my head to the endless repetitive riffs, and marvelling at the mighty record sleeve. This folded out into six sheets, full of entertaining words and images. Well, they were entertaining if you were a teenage boy and sort of imagined it would be fun to fly around the universe in a space ship with Hawkwind. (I didn't have a lot of girlfriends in those days. OK I had no girlfriends.)

After considering buying this for some years I was finally overwhelmed with nostalgia, so I bought the CD. I knew it wouldn't be the same but I wanted it anyway.

It wasn't till this CD arrived that I realised what a tremendous disappointment the packaging would be. Gone is the mighty album sleeve which folded out into such a huge item, replaced by a puny little booklet, which isn't the same at all. The whole thing is a great disappointment.

Here's a picture of me holding the original sleeve, and the modern equivalent. You can see why I'm not happy.

Anyone who has ever bought an LP with an extensive sleeve immediately understands this. It's a huge part of the fun that Compact Discs took away.

But there are people who have never bought an LP. There might even be iTunes Store customers who have never even bought a CD!

So the way to grab them, to introduce them to the dimension of music they've been missing -- and to introduce them to eBooks The Apple Way -- Apple will do this to woo them into the fold.

This has the additional added benefit of making everyone STFU about the question, "What could Apple do with eBooks?"

This "interactive booklet" will be Apple eBook 1.0.

Mark the 1.0 bit. Because I want all of you to consider how much more iPhone OS 3.0 towers over the original 1.0.

Apple will be bringing a 1.0 eBook to market. But unlike crappy ePub and all the crappy eInk devices, Apple will be able to go on to bring an eBook 2.0, an eBook 3.0, and beyond.

Starting today, everyone can ignore these things: Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, all eBook hardware devices, ePub, and all the ways so-called "eBooks" have been done.

The Age of the eBook has not even begun.

It will now that Apple is doing it.


Vito Positano said...

It's as if the downloaded "album" will be treated as one unit, not as 12 or so individual tracks. This means that the downloaded object will be reminiscent of how an interactive CD operates, which I hate, and it would likely locked in, not able to be separated into its individual tracks; The user may not be able to easily drag or copy just one track in order to store it somewhere else or give it away as this would facilitate the sharing of single music files which major labels hate.

This new presentation format also implies that the citizen will be presented with buttons to click or hover over to either open new independent windows or pop up windows. If this would be the method, I am not sure that it could sufficiently replicate my dad's tactile experience and compel me to make the purchase of this non-tactile product; It would not appeal to my demographic.

So has Apple developed a new DRM file format for this object and planning to introduce it because of the likely demand by record labels? If so, will it be used instead of or an enhancement to some sort of copy protection that already exists?

(By the way, I like that the input field is able to be dragged to open up as big as I need. Good feature. Many sites fail at this.)

billso said...

Good article! If Apple does roll out a tablet, you know that Amazon and will be ready with e-book apps... but they still won't display a gatefold album cover.

Mike Cane said...

@JohnDingler We'll have to wait to see exactly what it turns out to be. Aren't most tracks now DRM free at iTunes?