I Own a "Vast Kindle Library," and I'm Worried

By  |  Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Today, I wanted to buy a book. I did what I usually do these days before I plunk down my money for one: I checked to see if it was available as an Amazon Kindle e-book–one which I’d be able read not only on a Kindle but also on an iPad, an iPhone, an Android phone, a Mac, or a PC. It was. My finger instinctively lunged towards the 1-Click button.

And then it dawned on me: With the recent development that Apple is going to require creators of e-reader apps to sell books using its in-app purchasing feature, it’s not the least bit clear what the fate of Kindle books on Apple devices will be. (Apple says that as long as e-readers support in-app purchases, they’ll be able to retain access to digital books bought elsewhere–even though this violates the App Store approval guidelines.)

I’ve spent several hundred dollars on Kindle books over the past few years. Nowadays, I do about 80 percent of my reading of them on an iPhone and an iPad. An e-book I can’t read on Apple gizmos would be dramatically less valuable. And it’s not clear what’s going to happen to the Apple-compatible e-reader apps offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Kobo.

At the moment, Apple charges third-party sellers a thirty percent commission on content offered through the App Store’s in-app purchasing option. But as Reuters’ Aaron Pressman noted in a comment on an earlier post here, the “agency pricing” system used for e-books only gives Amazon and its competitors thirty percent of the book’s price. In other words, if Apple insists on getting a thirty percent cut, it’s demanding all the profit. That’s not going to work.

It’s possible that Apple has a tenable plan here–which would presumably involve charging Amazon and other e-book sellers a fee of a lot less than thirty percent of the book price. (At this week’s unveiling of News Corp.’s The Daily iPad newspaper, Apple Internet services honcho Eddy Cue made reference to an upcoming announcement involving content subscriptions; maybe single-copy sales will also be part of the news.)

Maybe Apple has even shared its plans with Amazon and other e-booksellers; maybe they even had a say in figuring it all out. Or maybe Amazon and others have a strategy for opting out of Apple’s new stipulation without leaving Apple devices behind–presumably something along the lines of the proposal floated by Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, who thinks that e-book sellers should build entirely Web-based readers. We just don’t know. And thanks to the opaque nature of Apple’s explanation of such things, it’s not clear when we will know.

I’m also unclear what’s going to happen to the existing versions of e-reading apps such as the iPhone and iPad Kindle apps. My guess is that if I never upgrade them, I’ll be able to use the current versions indefinitely and get access to my Kindle tomes. But I’m not positive.

Best case scenario, this all works out in a way that Apple, Amazon, and consumers can live with. Worst case scenario, Kindle e-books become the equivalent of music locked up with Microsoft’s ill-fated PlaysForSure technology: They’ll work on just about every gizmo out there…except the Apple devices that dominate the market.

In any event, this Amazon “Buy once, read everywhere” ad from a couple of months ago–which involves a lady taking her “vast Kindle library” with her when she dumps her iPhone for an Android handset–suddenly has a whole new meaning…

In the end, I snapped up the Kindle edition of the book I decided to buy today. But I’m still fretting that my “vast Kindle library” may be about to get less useful. One nice thing about dead-tree books, even though they cost more than electronic ones and take up more space: Once you own one, its capabilities aren’t subject to change…


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38 Comments For This Post

  1. JimC Says:

    Yet another (potential) reason I shun Apple products. I just don’t understand why people put up with their walled garden rules.

  2. Mike Cerm Says:

    First of all, it's just insane for Apple to try to charge a 30% tax on everything purchased using an iOS device. As far as I know, this 30% tax could extend to physical goods purchased through the Amazon app, or the eBay app, couldn't it? Yeah, that's not going to fly.

    However, with regard to the Kindle app: tough luck. When you buy Apple products, and when you buy DRM-incumbered digital goods, you're making a deal with the devil. Technically, two separate devils… and you've only got one soul for them to fight over. But I can't feel bad for all the people getting screwed by this, because they knew what they were getting themselves into.

    There are plenty of viable Kindle alternatives out there which don't lock you in; dead-tree books are cheaper, more useful, and more valuable in the long run anyway. If you don't like being a pawn in Apple's war against, well, everyone (Adobe, Amazon… that's just the A's), then start voting with your dollars.

  3. Muay Thai Says:

    30% tax? I'm out of here! Muay Thai Combinations | Muay Thai Kick | Martial Arts for Children

  4. @tsbandito Says:

    As someone who has done work in historic preservation and making things accessible, digital formats is something to fret about.

    Just think of the media we've already purchased multiple times. Who hasn't had a record/tape/cd/itunes/mp3 version of the same song (ok, some of us 8-tracks too). How about vhs/dvd/blue ray/imovie? Books are the same.

    Will Amazon/Kindle be around in 10 years, or 20, 30, 50? Even if they are, will the Kindle of then be able to read a book from today?

    I love reading on a device, but if I expect I'm going to keep a book for years to come, a paper format means I don't have to think about it (or converting between, upgrading, storing, etc).

    If I'm going to consume and toss before my next media reader upgrade, it's great. I buy knowing they expect me to re-buy it every generation of device, which is also why it should be 1/5th the cost!

    Just my .02

  5. David Chartier Says:

    On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to re-download a copy of a dead tree book if you lose it, or drench it in spilled water, or… 😀

  6. Paul Says:

    I guess you've got things backwards. My Kindle books won't become less valuable. Apple devices will become less valuable. No Flash? No Kindle App? No way. Apple is shooting themselves in the foot.

  7. Harry McCracken Says:

    If there’s any change in the availability of Kindle books on Apple devices–and to reiterate, it’s not clear that there will be–both Kindle books and Apple devices are less attractive purchases. Everyone loses, except maybe for Google…

  8. Tom B. Says:

    1) There is no evidence Apple will interfere with Harry reading his books. Apple is the most USER focussed company I know; I doubt they would do that.
    2) Ask me how I ( a user) feel about Flash. Here's a buggy, insecure technology rapidly disappearing from the web that is so inefficiently coded that your CPU gets pegged out to max every time you hit a Flash-heavy site. Flash is more of a "bug" than a feature, and the sooner it disappears entirely, the better.

  9. IcyFog Says:

    This is the downfall of all e-books. Books become proprietary on a system. I was afraid of this long ago. If I buy an e-book from any vendor, I want the ability to move it electronically to any device I own. Yet I can't weather it's from Apple, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
    Welcome to the digital age! Where 2011 is like 1984 – the book not the year.

  10. Jef Says:

    Maybe I am a bit slow on the uptake here, but do these new rules only matter if you make the purchase on the ios device? If you buy the book on the web from a PC, and send it to your kindle app, how does apple have anything to do with that?

    Soo…the fear of not being able to read your purchased books seems a bit like fear mongering,no?

    Is it really more convenient to switch to a awhole new eco system than to purchase it from another device? Just carry an android phone, buy it there, and sync the book to your ipad. Or just wait till you are on a PC.

    Apples draconian ways wil be their undoing. Now that android is a serious threat to the apple model, they need to rethink these kind of anti-consumer moves.

  11. w00t Says:

    Of course, you could simply remove the DRM on those kindle books and read them on whatever reader you prefer… The kindle reader isn’t that great.

  12. Nuovella Says:

    Get an android device like the Archos 101 tablet or the Samsung galaxy tab. Problem solved.

  13. Ryan Says:

    I highly doubt you have anything to worry about. First off, Apple has reversed many of their polices all through the lifespan of it’s devices and services. Second off, sometimes there isn’t a way for the in app purchases to work. Take the Stanza ebook reader that connects to other web based stores and allows you to download the books, bypassing the purchasing (that wasn’t possible at the time). Will this be kicked off? No way. The rules can be bent, but not broken ie you cant just have a browser and say it’s a store.

  14. SirFatty Says:

    I have a lot of ebook purchased via Amazon, and guess what? They work fine on the kindle, and will continue to do so. Oh, and the reader on my Android (G2) works equally as well. Honestly, who needs Apple?

    Seems like a non issue to me.

  15. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Convert them to pdf.

  16. violent23 Says:

    You could always strip the drm and then you would be able to put your Kindle eBooks on any device you want. Here is a tutorial to do just that. http://mobibookz.co.cc/forum/kindle-group4/kindle

  17. Chip Says:

    I know you cited Microsoft as pulling the rug out of PlaysForSure users, but all this hand-wringing seems a bit much, bordering on paranoia.
    I can't think of a situation where Apple has not ultimately been an advocate for its users. And some might recall some "terrible" Apple behavior, but don't they usually correct the situation quickly?
    Please provide some examples of past Apple behavior before you worry yourselves silly.
    Also, Harry, I'd worry more about why your blog shows "14 comments" on the front page, only to show 8 once a reader gets inside. Yes, I'd worry more about that right now rather than your e-books' future.

  18. Harry McCracken Says:

    You’re right, there’s an issue with comment counts on the site–working on it now.


  19. David Lopez Says:

    I really do not understand why pdf is not the standard for e-books, except for job security for each company that makes a reader.

  20. Mary Johnson Says:

    As a librarian, I've got to say I find Kindle irksome because it is the *ony* e-reader that will not allow its users to download and read free library books. Amazon is all about what they can sell, IMHO. And I agree that, with paper books, you don't have to worry about formatting – nor about running out of power, crashing, or any number of hazards of electronic devices!

    I do, of course, have ibooks on my phone, but it's no substitute for real books, in my opinion. A very nice adjunct, fir stuff that is ephemeral or that goes out of date quickly. I would love to see all textbooks ported to e-readers! But e-books are not going to replace actual books any time soon.

  21. GadgetGav Says:

    Hmmm, it's a bit late to worry about that now Harry. Rgardless of what Apple does with the in app purchasing rules, you already gladly gave up a LOT of benefits and rights when you bought your "vast kindle library". It's a DRM'd proprietary format, there's little or no lending ability, you can't borrow library books on it, you can't pass them on to friends when you've read them, you can't donate them to charities when you're done with them. To say the sky is falling because Apple is changing the rules on the purchasing model on one way of reading these files seems to be missing the point a little…
    Of course, there are ways to free your kindle purchases from the DRM, and if you weren't comfortable doing that you were always at the mercy of one or more big corporations who, guess what, just want to make money.

  22. Sergio Says:

    One more reason to buy an android device instead of renting any apple device.

  23. @hurtle24 Says:

    I agree with one of the posters above, Apple usually errs on the side of the customer, I would be very surprised if kindle ebooks become unusable on iOS devices.

  24. Dave Says:

    Couldn't you just purchase them on your computer and download them to the iPad? Downloading is not the same as purchasing so apple would not get a cut.

  25. jax Says:

    this really has changed my mind about kindle…iwasgoingto buy one this month for myself, but i don’t want any ereader device that won’t support borrowing books or using the library, call me old-fashioned but that’s horrible. Lincoln would have a fit.

  26. kindler Says:

    all kinds of Kindle smaller, lighter and faster is http://kindlecheap.blogspot.com/

  27. JerrL Says:

    Apple products have very high resale values, if apple blocks the kindle reader you can easily sell your ipad or iphone and get another device that supports your media.

  28. Tara Says:

    I have an iPad and I love it. However, I still plan on getting a kindle. Initially I considered a nook because it will let you borrow books from the library, but ultimately decided against the nook. It has very few free books, even classic books. Most of the classic books I want are free on amazon. Also, nook customer service is horrible, and amazon's is amazing. So I don't care I can't borrow from the library. Libraries still don't have a great selection of snooks yet, anyway.

  29. Jamie Curtis Baker Says:

    I recently just published on the Kindle myself. If you are in the mood for a sarcastic, humurous horror/suspense story, please check out my book "Not Well". Here's a link: http://www.amazon.com/Not-Well-ebook/dp/B004PLMII

    Thanks for the support! 🙂

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/amanda-hocking-201

  30. Roberta Runkle Says:

    I need a phone number to call about a credit that was to be credited to my account please

  31. kindler Says:

    all kinds of Kindle smaller, lighter and faster is http://kindlecheap.blogspot.com/

  32. Observer Says:

    One Apple to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

  33. Bflag Says:

    Screw apple get rid of them and go android

  34. Nigel Deans Says:

    One of the reasons why I NEVER buy ANY Apple product is their incessant "requirements" that everything be controlled by the mother Apple ship. Screw in-app purchases. I'm a free market spirit I should be able to buy what I want from whomever. Apple = Tyranny

  35. ebpp Says:

    apple really does take a large cut on all of it's digital products

  36. @stella__K Says:

    The whole point of having a Kindle and not any tablet PC is that you can actually read for hours (I can't read more than 30 in on an iPad). So I don't see why you have to move everything. Keep reading on your Kindle where you have all your books. iPad's are not really made for reading.

  37. Andrew Says:

    I do like reading my kindle on the ipad, as I can quickly switch to something else for a moment before getting back to the book.

    However, I'm now faced with the reality of what others have feared. Amazon, for their own reasons, turned off my account and asked me to open a new one. Fraudulent activity, they say, and that they're protecting me. However, no one used my credit card, and they won't tell me what the activity was. All they can tell me is that if I want to continue using Amazon, I have to open a new account.

    However, get this…ALL OF MY HISTORY IS GONE AND THAT INCLUDES KINDLE PURCHASES! So whatever I've purchased from Amazon they claim can not be brought back. Now, granted, after three days of numerous emails, chats and phone calls I don't seem to get past first level support, but I'm at a loss as to solving the problem. Amazon has stonewalled me on it. And so in addition to losing order history, address info, etc — all my kindle inventory is gone.

    I'm going back to printed books for now. Maybe I'll give Apple's book service a try. And you'd better believe I'll stop buying books, electronics, and office supplies (among other things) from Amazon.

  38. Jessy Says:

    What is the best place to rent college textbooks from?