What’s the Difference Between an eBook and an App?
By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World
Kill Your App Any Time: Section 8 makes it clear that Apple can “revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time.” Steve Jobs has confirmed that Apple can remotely disable apps, even after they have been installed by users. This contract provision would appear to allow that.
Amazon caught a lot of flak last summer when it remotely deleted unauthorized copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from unsuspecting Kindle owners’ accounts. Cries of “Big Brother” were heard all across the Internet, and one angry customer even sued the online retailer when he lost the notes he had taken along with the eBook.
The suit has been settled, and Ars Technica noted some interesting footnotes that came along with it:
But that’s not the most interesting aspect of the settlement. In it, Amazon’s attorneys agreed to legally binding terms that describe its content deletion policy. When it comes to blog and periodical content, as well as software, Amazon retains the right to perform a remote delete. But when it comes to books, deletions will only occur under a limited number of circumstances: failed credit card transactions, judicial orders, malware, or the permission of the user.
This was last October, when there was still hope that the Nook might successfully challenge Kindle’s dominance, the iPad was still just a rumor, and few people had ever heard of the “agency model”.
Fast forward to today, and mobile apps are all the rage, with over 27,000 book apps already available on the iPhone, and “enhanced” apps like The Death of Bunny Munro are offered up as examples of the future of the eBook. For $16.99 (£9.99) you get “the full ebook, the unabridged audiobook synchronised to the text, read by the author with an original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and 11 videos of Cave reading from the novel.” It’s a large download (just under 1GB), and I don’t have an iPhone so I told a friend who does about it so we could check it out. He tried to download the free sampler, but it was too big for his 3G connection so he had to wait until he could get WiFi access.
That’s called #epicfail in the Twitterverse.
There’s a much bigger issue with mobile apps, though, and in light of the frequent criticism of Amazon’s proprietary approach to the Kindle, it’s surprising that it’s rarely addressed in the typically breathless media coverage of Apple and its App Store.
Application stores are the new walled gardens.
Most applications are published through walled application stores. The maintainers reserve the right to refuse your app for ethical and technical reasons. To be clear, there is content that should not be available on the Internet, but censoring is not a trivial matter and is a dream come true for institutions that want to shutout competition and uncomfortable voices. Imagine going through an approval process to have your Web sites indexed by a search engine. There is no institution that could provide the scale of auditing the billions of Web pages. As for technical reasons there is no way around an application review process since apps can seriously harm your phone. Mobile viruses are not for the faint of heart.
As both von Lohman and PercentMobile have noted, Apple’s approach to apps is really no different from Amazon’s approach to eBooks, and they arguably take much more of a Big Brother approach than Amazon does based on their recent selective ban on sexual content (Playboy somehow made the cut) and “cookie-cutter” apps.
Are publishers jumping from the frying pan into the fryer by favoring Apps over eBooks, and looking to Apple as a savior?
Are they missing an opportunity by not focusing their resources on the device-agnostic mobile web instead?
In December 2009, 63.1 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used text messaging on their mobile device, up 2.1 percentage points from three months prior. Browsers were used by 27.5 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers (up 1.5 percentage points), while subscribers who played games made up 21.6 percent (up 0.2 percentage points).
What are the fundamental differences between eBooks and Apps, and do they favor dedicated devices like the Kindle or multi-function devices like the iPhone and iPad?
What do you think?
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Chief Executive Optimist for Digital Book World.