Publishers wary of Apple tablet implications

Mon, Oct 5, 2009


With Apple reportedly reaching out to publishers in anticipation of their rumored tablet, not everyone is excited about what an Apple tablet may do to the publishing industry.

AdAge writes that a number of traditional publishers are wary of ceding control over their content to Apple, and want to avoid the situation that record labels found themselves in during the mid-2000’s – where Apple basically held all the cards.

In a possible pre-emptive strike, AdAge notes that publishers are toying with the idea of “an industry-wide digital storefront where tablet users could buy digital issues or subscriptions without going through iTunes or the App Store.”

It’s a sound idea in theory, but when it comes down to it, the installed base of iTunes users is already so massive that any attempts to circumvent Apple’s preferred way of selling downloadable content is destined to be a bust.  While the publishing industry undoubtedly has very real concerns about what effect an Apple tablet would have on their business, it’s hard to really go against Apple given their track record with the iPod and the iPhone.  Some publishers may try and stand firm, but we’d wager that most publishing houses will enter into some sort of deal with Apple simply out of fear of being left behind.

“There’s a lot of activity right now at all of the major newspaper and magazine publishers around ‘What is our role?'” said one magazine executive this week, who declined to speak on the record because of the sensitivity around interactions with Apple. “A lot of the conversations are around ‘We need to control the customer relationship.’ We are not interested in doing an Amazon thing or even an Apple thing where they own the data.”

The problem is that newspapers in particular have done a less than impressive job with managing the customer relationship, and is precisely why Apple may be able to shake things up in the first place.

An industry storefront would let publishers retain that information, not to mention full control over pricing, the executive said. “That storefront would live on the Apple tablet,” this person said. “You’d have an icon for this store where you could get your magazines or newspapers.”

If accessing newspapers and magazines is going to be a big selling point for the tablet, it seems unlikely that Apple would want to put control of such a storefront into the hands of publishers.


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