That Apple eBook story just doesn’t pass the smell test

A story appearing in the New York Times today that’s headlined, Apple Moves to Tighten Control of App Store, contains one of those speculative paragraphs that makes the tech blogosphere explode.

Here’s the paragraph:

“Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. The move could affect companies like Amazon.com and others that sell e-book readers that compete with Apple’s iPad tablet and offer free mobile apps so customers can read their e-book purchases on other devices. An iPad owner, for instance, has not needed to own a Kindle to read Kindle books bought from Amazon. That may now change.”

I’m sorry. This just doesn’t pass the smell test. Well, the first part does: the “in-app purchases” part makes sense, as it’s what Apple has always done — nothing new, there. That’s the whole reason some magazine publishers haven’t agreed to Apple’s “subscription” terms — they’ve made the on-going transaction an “in-app” or “in-App-Store” function and Apple takes a cut of each one of those transactions, forever.

But Amazon — and bazillion other companies — have gotten around the “in-app-transaction” by moving the transaction to a browser-based iPad optimized web-app (translation: outside the Apple App Store).

Here, let me put this in a numbered list of why this story doesn’t pass the smell test:

1. Amazon has never been able to sell ebooks “in-app.” One must click over to the browser-based Kindle store to purchase ebooks. To leap from the “in-app commerce” limitation to an “in-app reading” limitation is a non sequitur.

2. The writers of this article seem to know little about past attempts by companies to control channels of book distribution. I’d suggest a review of the failed attempt by Barnes & Noble to buy Ingram to ponder how the Federal Trade Commission treats anything that smacks of restraint of trade, when it comes to something labeled “book.”

3. Apple sold $17-billion of iPads in the past nine months. For Apple to distract itself from this juggernaut to flick off the flea-sized revenues it could achieve through monopolizing eBook sales on the iPad is, well, beyond logic.

Now, perhaps I’m missing something. But my years of tracking Apple and tracking eBook evolution tells me this: this story is out of sync with reality.

However, if it is true.

If Apple does anything to disable the reading of a Kindle-format eBook, I will gladly join the outrage against Apple. I will be like one of those protestors in Cairo. I will be the biggest advocate a non-Apple pad device has ever seen.

There will not be a more passionate zealot them me in blasting Cupertino for worrying about something that is no bigger than a knot on a gnat’s ass in the big scheme of their opportunities with the iPad.

Furthermore, the notion of selling “in-app” is something that needs to be hacked anyway: Kindle has the model: enable usage in the app; push commerce outside the app.

Update: All Things Digital has a clarification from Apple that, as I suspected, reduces the issue back to a molehill. You can read about it there, but the issue is this: if you push commerce for app-related content to a website, you also have to offer it in-app. Apple obviously hasn’t enforced it yet, as Apple doesn’t do it. However, I do recall that Amazon has said from the beginning, it will have in-app sales. This may explain why the slow-walking on the feature. I’d bury it so far, you’d have to have a microscope to find it. But still, the issue is extremely far from where bloggers went today with the NYT story’s speculation that, “An iPad owner, for instance, has not needed to own a Kindle to read Kindle books bought from Amazon. That may now change.” Sheesh.

Bonus link: Love this quote from MG Siegler at Techcrunch:

“The larger public simply doesn’t care about this whole open versus closed debate. And it doesn’t really seem like developers actually making the apps do either. But the press certainly seems to for some reason. We get so damn angry about things like this — when we read them on our iPads. Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads in just 8 months last year. Does anyone really believe the product is going to crash and burn this year? I can hear the masses, “You know, I was going to buy an iPad, if only they had accepted that Sony eReader app. Damn…”