Kobo to Apple: We’re Building Our Own HTML5 E-Bookstore

By  |  Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Apple’s new App Store policies–the ones I worried about when they were announced months ago–have kicked in. From now on, app makers who sell content such as books and music have two ways of making it available. They can use Apple’s In-App Purchase system to sell content within the app (giving Apple a 30 percent commission). Or they can sell it directly to consumers through their own venues, such as Web-based stores–but can include no mentions or links relating to that fact in the iOS app itself.

Many third-party developers are choosing one route or the other without any public fuss. Canadian e-book purveyor Kobo is being a tad more prickly. It’s updated its iOS app with a new version that meets the new rules–it lets you read books you’ve purchased, but provides no way to buy them or register for a Kobo account, nor any explanation of how to do so. But it’s also announcing plans to build an HTML5 e-reading app which will work in the iOS browser–and which it’ll control itself, with no requirement that it follow Apple’s rules. And the company’s chief iOS architect is detailing the Byzantine approval process which the Kobo app had to go through before Apple would finally approve it. (The essentially similar Borders app wasn’t forced to jump through as many hoops, a reminder of the biggest problem with App Store rules: they’re sometimes applied in an inconsistent, apparently arbitrary fashion.)

Going HTML5 doesn’t solve Kobo’s problems: It isn’t possible to write a Safari app that’s as slick and fluid as a native iOS app. I’m glad the company is giving it a try, though. (I wonder if you’ll be able to read books when you aren’t connected to the Internet?)

On one level, Apple’s new rules aren’t a huge deal. Nobody’s being deprived of any content here: If you’re smart enough to be reading digital books on an iPhone or iPad, you’re probably smart enough to find the e-reader app’s online store even if it’s not mentioned in the app. You just have to click around on your own.

But since it is reasonably obvious that those stores exist, why is Apple forbidding mention of them in the apps? As far as I can tell, the two end results of the new policy are (A) more money in Apple’s pocket if an app developer chooses to go through the In-App Purchase system; and (B) minor-but-completely-unnecessary¬†inconvenience for Apple customers if an app developer spurns In-App Purchases. Neither scenario makes iPhone and iPad owners any happier or healthier. It feels like pointless¬†bureaucracy.

Seems to me that Apple could fix this in a jiffy by simply permitting developers to include a link to their own Web stores in iOS apps. In-App Purchases would still be the most seamless way to purchase content; nobody would be forced to maintain an utter code of silence about the fact that there are alternative ways to buy stuff, too.

Looking on the bright side: again and again, Apple has shown that it’s willing to adjust its App Store policies on the fly as circumstances require. If it changes them once more to allow Web store links, nobody will complain–and some of us Apple customers will feel better about this whole affair.



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13 Comments For This Post

  1. @robschertzer Says:

    For me, who reads a fair amount of Kindle books, the elimination of the link to the Amazon kindle store in their iPad/iPhone app doesn't make a difference. I prefer shopping for my Kindle ebooks via their website and then I just send it to my iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air at the time of the purchase.

    How many people actually PREFER the in app ebook shopping experience – anyone?

  2. Randy Peterman Says:

    How can you say that you can't make as fluid an app in Safari in comparison to web apps? HTML5 has some slick stuff that developers have barely tapped. Have you seen this: http://animatable.com/demos/madmanimation/ (click watch) – that's running using CSS3 and none of the other awesome stuff HTML5 and JavaScript (1.5) have to offer.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    There are some terrific HTML5 apps, but I haven’t yet seen any as terrific as the best native iOS apps–but I hope they get there. I’m rooting for them…


  4. Randy Peterman Says:

    Cool, just as long as you're not saying it's impossible ūüėČ

  5. Podesta Says:

    I notice that people jumping on the bash Apple bandwagon are eliding the major reason Kobo, the Financial Times, Readability, etc., are in revolt – they don't want to pay any money to Apple to use its app. For some reason, they think they should be allowed to freeload. If another company were to say it should be able to use their services free of charge, they would be up in arms. Their behavior is resoundingly hypocritical and basely greedy.

    I use both in-app and independent subscriptions. For example, I already have a print subscription to The New Yorker that includes app access, so it would not make sense to purchase another. But, I have no problem with Apple getting a share of the profits from its App Store. Seems only fair.

  6. Jared Newman Says:

    Due to the amount of money e-book sellers must pay to publishers for every book sold, a 30 percent cut to Apple would mean zero profits for the seller. In the case of Kobo, at least, it's not so much "basely greedy" as it is financially unsustainable. You might have a better argument if Apple was asking for 5 percent or 10 percent instead, but we can only speculate how Kobo would react if that was the case.

  7. Roger Says:

    I heard from someone at Kobo that they'd be losing money if they paid that 30% to Apple. I don't know what your views are, but the whole idea of a business is to make money. And with the thin margins of the ebook business that's hard to do when someone's demanding a large chunk of your take for doing almost nothing.

    The people being greedy and exclusionary here are Apple, not Kobo. I mean even an agent doesn't demand 30% from a client.

  8. Tom Ross Says:

    Amazon Kindle used to take a 70 % cut before iBooks forced them to change their ways.

  9. ahow628 Says:

    The bottom line is that Apple wants to push people into its lousy iBooks store. If it can't push them in there, it will go ahead and skim 30% off the top from its competition.

  10. ahow628 Says:

    "Looking on the bright side: again and again, Apple has shown that it’s willing to adjust its App Store policies on the fly as circumstances require."

    That's the bright side? Uhoh…

  11. dave haynie Says:

    Apple’s plan here is pretty clear… they want to control, as much as is practical, all installed content on iOS devices. They want to make money from any such purchase. They have their rules, and those who don’t want to share revenues are going to have a few extra hoops.

    The goal actually is to frustrate customers… to the point where they stop putting up with Kobo or Amazon or whoever and just live with easier-to-use iBooks.

    Another reason to switch over to Android, IMHO.

  12. Andy Says:

    Amazon should just have in app purchases, put add on and clearly itemise the 30%, labelling it for what it is – the "Apple Tax".

    Fearing Amazon might dump the Kindle iPhone app altogether, I dumped my iPhone and moved to Android a few months ago.

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