Does Apple really want to have a “no links to your local bookstore” rule?

Apple has just done something that I would have previously believed impossible: They have given independent booksellers and Amazon a reason to join forces. A common enemy often does that.

Many years ago, when Barnes & Noble attempted to purchase the giant book wholesaler Ingram Book, those companies discovered that rules that may be flexible when you’re talking about channels for the distribution of, say, toothpaste, aren’t as flexible when those same rules are applied to books.

The whole “freedom of the press” thing works especially well when you apply it against any decision that makes it sound like you are trying to prevent readers from purchasing books from their favorite source, B&N and Ingram discovered.

So what does that have to do with Apple?

Deep in the announcement today by Apple regarding the subscription plan they are instituting for magazine and other media publishers (the subscription plan is okay, in my opinion, as I explained in the previous post) is a sentence about a prohibition against links inside an app to website stores where a user can purchase a digital product that could be sold through Apple’s iTunes Store. While in the context of the subscription press release, it was later clarified that Apple plans to apply the prohibition to eBook reader apps like the iPad version of the Kindle app. Let me try to say that again: Apple says it’s okay if the companies who have apps sell eBooks on their website, but they can’t have a link on the app that would automatically take the app user to those online, browser-based stores. Such a link is how the Kindle app — and all other eBook readers work today.

But the Kindle app will, in my opinion, prove to be a minor issue compared to what Apple will discover when they try to apply the rule to the Google Book app — a decision that could turn this issue radioactive for Apple.

Why? Because the Google Books iPad app has forged a relationship with the country’s 1,400 independent bookstores. In an effort to counter the Amazon juggernaut of eBooks, those independent bookstores have decided that Google is the best way to sell eBooks that can be read on Kindles, iPads, Nooks, etc.

But after today’s prohibition is in place, if you’re using the Google Books app and you want to purchase an eBook, but rather than from Apple or Amazon, you want to purchase it from your local bookstore, well, forget being able to have an easy to click link to your favorite bookstore if it’s on this growing list of Independent booksellers.

We’re talking independent booksellers. Small businesses. Community-loved stores. Mom and apple pie — but not Apple pie.

Does Apple really want to take on Amazon and all those independent booksellers to defend its “no links to local bookstores” policy?

Does Apple want to keep people from clicking over to the small business book stores of America.

Is Apple against small business that much?

Does Apple want to spend the next few years battling with states attorneys generals over links?

See what I mean: Radioactive.

  • You’ve missed the point. The provision is that apps like the Kindle one will no longer be able to take people to an external website to make a purchase. But they will be able to redisgn the app so the purchase is made inside the iPad environment, ie via the new subscription service. That way, Apple creams off 30% of the fee. That’s the real, nasty trick, which, it my opinion, will push up the cost of books. It will also have a similar impact on Netflix when selecting streaming movies, and magazine and newspaper apps like Zinio and PressReader. So you think that’s “okay”?

  • I’ve missed the point? I think I displayed outrage that people aren’t given the option to purchase ebooks on websites in an easy-to-click-to way. Are you suggesting that Apple not charge a commission on in-app purchases? I think it’s okay for them to do so as long as I can click off and purchase the book where I want to.

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  • Jeff Bradford

    Rex, I notice that the list of independent booksellers linked to from your post does not include any from Tennessee. Are there no longer any independent booksellers in Tennessee other than used book stores?

  • That list is of those participating in the Google Book program — a sub set of the membership of the American Booksellers Association. There are many members in Tennessee. You can find them here..