Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Remember when Apple was a technology company, Google a search and advertising company, and Amazon an online retailer?
Those were the days.
Granted, Apple hasn’t opened a publishing division (yet), although one could argue that the iBooks Author App is the first step towards Apple generating its own mostly proprietary content, even if it is content currently being produced by others. But in standing side by side with Pearson and Macmillan by refusing to settle the Department of Justice’s antitrust suit out of court, Apple is taking a stand in favor of content producers, effectively proclaiming the paramount importance of content.
The lines are also blurring for Google, which recently rebranded its Android Market into Google Play, a consolidated source of its digital offerings of apps, videos, ebooks, and music. The rundown is impressive; Google Play offers 4 million ebook titles, 450,000 Android apps and games, thousands of movies to rent—including new releases and HD titles—and free storage of 20,000 songs. According to this TechCrunch article, which questions whether selling content is now king,
“Google wants to promote its top-billing products across screens and instances, increase visibility, and hopefully attract more users to premium content. Google has also been moving into direct-to-consumer content sales over the past year, and Google Play offers that unified storefront experience that provides a very direct alternative to the iTunes store. Again, it’s Google’s more “open,” cross-platform, approach (you don’t have to own an Android device to rent movies or purchase music, it’s all cloud-backed and browser accessible)—versus Apple’s Walled Garden.”
In the meantime, Amazon has definitively branched out into the business of content production with its Amazon Publishing initiative. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s New Harvest imprint, which exists solely for the purpose of distributing Amazon’s hard copy titles, just released its fall list—an interesting lineup featuring such titles as Hillbilly Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus (sign me up for that one, stat. Mock it though I will, that baby’s going to sell), The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss, and a mysterious novel named Elimination Night, by Anonymous.
It doesn’t stop there. Ereader company Kobo appears to be following in Amazon’s footsteps. Kobo’s CEO, Michael Serbinis, recently announced that his company would be launching its own publishing division, with the express purpose of competing with Amazon publishing. Kobo will focus not only on creating a self-publishing platform for independent authors, which will provide soup-to-nuts services of everything from editing to cover art, but also signing its own authors just as Amazon does.
Given the dire state of affairs created by the absurdly misguided DOJ lawsuit, the fact that new content providers are surfacing is heartening. At least we’ll have some substitute for traditional publishing companies after the swift hand of “justice” drives them into the ground.
There’s another way that ownership of original content is proving to be increasingly crucial—the creation of enhanced ebooks. Purchasing the license to use such material as famous songs and video clips with which to bedazzle ebooks can be onerously expensive, giving the advantage to up-and-comers like NBC Publishing and National Geographic, both of which are creating ebooks using never-before-seen content from their own archives. For more on the Nat Geo “digital shorts,” check out this article by fellow Appazoogler Keira Lyons.
The digital revolution is all about digitizing content, and as such, content reigns supreme as never before. I expect that the trend towards the creation of original content by the same companies that once used to merely sell it will increasingly become the norm. There’s something a little dark, maybe even macabre, about this transition, as purveyors become creators and former creators—publishing houses—find themselves assailed from all sides. For publishing houses, winter is coming (forgive me; I couldn’t resist)…but at least we consumers will have the digital giants to keep us warm.