The Biggest Apple News Today Was Not the iPad

There was great excitement among tech geeks today as Apple revealed its first-generation iPad.  Some people like it, some people hate it, but you can’t deny that there is some great potential there.  However, the iPad announcement was not the biggest news of the day.  This was.

That’s right.  Apple has created their own electronic book store.

Now in their announcement today, Apple boasted the support of five major publishing houses including Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Shuster and most likely many more.  However, that in itself is not a particularly revolutionary concept for digital publishing.

What is revolutionary is Apple’s vision for the digital publishing medium as covered in this article by Wired.  According to Wired, Apple’s goal is not simply to sell mainstream books, but to revolutionize publishing in the same way that they revolutionized music and movies.  In a sense, Apple wants to open up content production to everyone, a strategy that they call crowd-sourcing.  This was the strategy that propelled the App Store to over a 100,000 apps, 3 billion downloads, and over a billion dollars in revenue.

With books, if the Wired story is correct, that means that Apple would allow small publishers to publish content for the iBookstore while only taking a 30% cut.

The consequences for our nascent industry are astonishing.  The traditional chokepoints to distribution would essentially be annihilated.  Through the iBookstore, essentially anybody would be able to sell their content to everyone for the first time and in only one place.

So rather than sell self-published digital novels on Amazon, and Smashwords, and numerous other small distributors, you would sell it on iBookstore and reach an already established user base of millions (assuming that they’ll bring the iBookstore to iPhone).

That’s it.  No more half-solutions, no more backdoors, just one-stop shopping for everything.

When I saw this story this morning, my jaw dropped.  My game plan had to change.  My goal was not just to get my novel onto iPhones.  My goal is now to get my novel onto the iBookstore.

How to do that however is left unanswered.  If we are to go by the experiences of iTunes, then within a few months we’ll have to go through a third-party like CDBaby that has an Apple License.  Regardless of how it’s done, it is apparent that it will soon be possible to self-publish your stories and sell them directly onto the iPhone and the iPad.  This has been the holy grail for self-publishers and now it’s within reach.

Another interesting choice for Apple’s new iBooks service is the adoption of the open source ePub file format.  The ePub file format does have some detractors but it has one huge advantage over the “Meat Grinder” option that Smashwords offers: control.  Using the ePub file format allows you complete control over how your digital book is displayed.  This means that not only will you be able to publish your books on iPhone, you will be able to manage the typesetting of the manuscript.  As someone who was discouraged by the Meat-Grinder one-size-fits-all typesetting of Smashwords, today’s development enables me to make my manuscript look indistinguishable from the books from the major publishing houses.  That is a major improvement.

In short, it’s a brand new world for digital self-publishing thanks to Apple and more importantly the new iBookstore.  It is a world that I and many other prospective digital novelists will have to learn how to navigate.  I hope that you will be able to join me.

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