Watching the scuffle going on between SONY and Apple over SONY’s eBook reader has started me thinking not about the actual conflict here, but a more general and overarching issue which runs along the top of all of this. A few days ago Scott brought up this issue to me and had shared with me that if Apple does what they are going to do to SONY, that it could invalidate the Kindle store, the nook store, and the Comixology store from the iPad and that without those, he’d sell his iPad the first chance he got.
That piqued my interest and I read more about the entire argument online. Apple wants to channel all content through iTunes, that makes a lot of sense, it keeps the user experience very streamlined and is incredibly profitable for Apple. In many ways, Apple has created a lever and all these other companies have happily stabbed themselves with the pointy-end of the lever and now Apple has grabbed the other end and is starting to apply pressure. Is it unfair? Perhaps to Barnes & Noble, perhaps to Amazon, perhaps also to DC and Marvel too, through Comixology, but let’s be clear here, all these companies walked into Apple’s Den, they had to know that eventually Apple would smell the
blood money and eventually key off a feeding frenzy which ends up in a policy change. It’s Apple’s device, it’s Apple’s playground. Yes, it’s rather a vicious thing to do, to trap your enemies in your spider web and then feed off them, but that’s the mean side of capitalism. It’s not very pretty, but it is expected.
Above all of this petty capitalistic bullshit there is an overarching issue which isn’t being discussed. Every single player in this drama has one central pillar that holds up the big tent that they are all fighting under. This pillar is that of DRM and “Closed Format” data. It’s this that keeps people interested in iBooks, nook, Kindle, or Comixology. None of these companies are really doing anything altogether great for their customers, basically selling them monolithic black boxes that you need the companies help to open and enjoy. This is the darker side of eBook publishing. When you publish a physical book you can go anywhere to get it and then read it anywhere you like, you can give it away, you can tear the binding off and copy it and give it to a friend, or you can recite it to a blind person for their entertainment if you so wish. With these closed formats, you can’t do anything like that without the express permission of the company that originally sold you that product. This chafes and irritates me.
If eBooks were sold in truly open formats, such as ePub or plain-PDF then people have the liberty to do as they wish, to have true freedom and every issue above simply vanishes. If Apple refuses to let companies sell without taking a cut, then the companies can just sell ePub/PDF files from their own websites and then email the file to the customer. Then the customer can use whatever app they like to read the file on the device they like. For me that’s iBooks on my iPad, for some of my friends, that could be their nook or even their Kindle. Open Formats break the central pillar of control that these companies use to skewer us as customers and rake us over the coals of use-restrictions. You want to give your book to a friend? Send the file to them. Done. Simple. No silly 14-day lending rules, no “can’t print this file” DRM bullshit, and these eBooks, in their open state become valuable even to people such as the blind who need TTS services to enjoy the product.
When I see this argument and see these companies whining about how bad Apple is to them, I see these companies with their own sharpened-pointy levers shoved into their customers. Apple pushes the companies, the companies push the consumer. Who gets it in the end? The consumer. You know full well that if Apple takes a 30% cut, the companies will just hike their prices by 30% and call it a “mean Apple tax” and pass the pain on to the consumer. Open formats would eliminate all of this, it would encourage true competition and take the teeth out of this entire batch of bullshit.
Consumers should vote with their dollars. They should only buy ePub, PDF, CBR, or CBZ files and reject every other format for eBook data. To do anything else would be to “Invite the Vampires” into your home and once they are inside, it’s all over. None of these companies truly care about how they treat the customer, the customer is just this anonymous schmuck who is designed to get it, and get it hard, in the end.
As a sideline, we’ve seen this sense more and more often, that customers are enemies. It’s an odd relationship. Without customers these companies would die, without these companies we might not see as much innovation and product. Both sides desperately want to screw the other side and both sides dream of a world where the other side is properly punished and they both can’t live the same without the other! I see evidence of this all the time in the things I hear:
- Fucking Amazon, I swear to god I will never buy from them again! They are so fucking disorganized it’s amazing they make any money at all! I hope they go bankrupt!
- Oh god no, it’s another customer with a problem. Maybe she’ll swallow her tongue before she gets up here with her stupid meaningless complaint. God I wish they would just all go away.
Not that open formats would solve these extended problems, but at least for us consumers it would go very far in removing our pawns from the chessboard of bullshit that these companies are trying to get us trapped in. The best way to win at Tic-Tac-Toe is not to play.