I’m sorry too: Apple Has Put iFlow Reader Out of Business

iflow reader logo

As I’ve said many times on this blog, when it comes to ebook reader apps, I’m a loyal user of the Kindle App on the iPad. However, the only ebook reader that I’ve tried that displayed creativity and unique insight into some of the properties of the iPad is the iFlow Reader app.

I’ve been so impressed with it and the way it challenges the entire notion of traditional book metaphors like “the page,” that I have a few hundred words of a post sitting on my computer where unfinished blog-posts collect dust. (I may add it later to the bottom of this post.) For example, the app uses the iPad’s accelerometer to allow the reader to tilt the iPad and control the speed at which the text scrolls down (no page-flipping necessary). When you “turn on” reading or “turn off” reading, the app lets you know how much more time you have left until you have read the entire book — pages being an unnecessary metaphor if the app can track the speed at which you are reading.

Unfortunately, we’ll never get to see what could have happened with the creative approach the iFlow app was taking as I just received the following email from the creators of the app (later: the letter on their site):

We’re Sorry, Apple Has Put iFlow Reader Out of Business

Thank you for being one of our valued customers. We are writing to you today to make a very sad announcement. BeamItDown Software and the iFlow Reader will cease operations as of May 31, 2011. We absolutely do not want to do this, but Apple has made it completely impossible for almost anyone but Apple to make a profit selling contemporary ebooks on any iOS device. We cannot survive selling books at a loss and so we are forced to go out of business. We bet everything on Apple and iOS and then Apple killed us by changing the rules in the middle of the game. This is a very sad day for innovation on iOS in this important application category. We are a small company that thought we could build a better product. We think that we did but we are powerless against Apple’s absolute control of the iOS platform.

[snip]Information about technical things I should do to be able to read any books I’ve purchased from them.[/snip]

Why Do We Have to Shutdown?

The crux of the matter is that Apple is now requiring us, as well as all other ebook sellers, to give them 30% of the selling price of any ebook that we sell from our iOS app. Unfortunately, because of the “agency model” that has been adopted by the largest publishers, our gross margin on ebooks after paying the wholesaler is less than 30%, which means that we would have to take a loss on all ebooks sold. This is not a sustainable business model.
Where did the agency model come from and what is it? The agency model was created by Apple who made it a requirement for any publisher who wished to sell books through Apple’s iBooks app. The agency model has three key points:

*The publisher is now the retailer of record. The company selling the eBook to the end user is an “agent” of the retailer who receives a commission on the sale.

*All sales agents are required to sell books at the same retail price, which is set by the publisher. No one can sell at a different price.

*All sales agents get a 30% commission on the sale of a book. No one gets a different deal. Prior to the agency model, publishers typically offered retailers a 50% discount.

The key point here is that all sellers now get a 30% commission and Apple now wants a 30% fee, which is all of our gross margin and then some. The six largest publishers have now all adopted the agency model. These publishers account for nearly 90% of all ebooks sold. Random House was the last publisher to adopt the agency model, which they did on March 1 of this year. You may have noticed that all 17,000 Random House titles disappeared from our catalog on February 28. They appeared in Apple’s iBooks catalog the following day. We, as well as all other small booksellers, have yet to complete an agency agreement with Random House. Up until February 28, these were our most profitable items because we were still getting a 50% discount on these ebooks. With an eight-hour notice, all of these titles disappeared from our store as well as the stores of all other small ebook sellers.

Five of us spent nearly a year and a half of our lives and over a million dollars in cash and sweat equity developing the iFlowReader app with its unique AutoScrolling approach to reading that many of you really like. We think that our product is the best one available on iOS for reading ebooks. We had extensive plans to make it even better. We looked to the future of ebooks for inspiration while Apple and others were looking at the printed books of the past. This explains the cute, but gratuitous page turning animations, and old-timey bookshelves, which are all very amusing at first, but not very useful in the end.

We sent a letter to Apple VP Philip Schiller in September 2009 to confirm our business model. Apple told us they couldn’t guarantee anything – submit the application and they’d let us know after submission. We submitted our new iFlowReader app Apple in November of 2010 and they approved it a few days later. After approval, we made substantial additional investments in licensing fees, integration fees, and server fees so that we could open our ebook store on December 2, 2010. Two months later, Apple changed the rules and put us out of business. They now want 30% of the sale price of any books, which they know full well, is all of our profits and more. What sounds like a reasonable demand when packaged by Apple’s extraordinary public relations department is essentially an eviction notice to all ebook sellers on iOS. After over three years of developing products for iOS during which we had over six million downloads of our BeamItDown iFlowReader products, Apple is giving us the boot by making it financially impossible for us to survive. They want all of the eBook business on iOS and since they have the unilateral power to get it, we are out of business and the iFlow Reader is dead.

We put our faith in Apple and they screwed us. This happened even though we went to great lengths to clear our plans with Apple because we did not want to make this substantial investment of time and money blindly. Apple’s response to our detailed inquiries was to tell us that our plans did not infringe their rules in any way, which was true at the time, but there is one little catch. Apple can change the rules at any time and they did. Sadly they must have known full well that they were going to do this. Apple’s iBooks was already in development when we talked to them and they certainly must have known that their future plans would doom us to failure no matter how good our product was. We never really had a chance.

Thank You For Your Support

We greatly appreciate your patronage and we sincerely regret that we are forced to do this. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this causes. We had a great product and our customer list was growing daily. We were rapidly adding books to our catalog and we had plans to add many, many more by adding PDF support to the iFlowReader along with many other exciting features. We were also in the middle of discussions with OEM customers in many countries who wanted to license our technology in countries around the world. We had investors ready to invest money in our future. It was the American dream that we all strive for. Sadly, the America that we thought we were working in turned out to be a totalitarian regime and the dictator decided that he wanted all of what we had. Our dream is now over.

If you think that this move by Apple is contrary to your interests as an iOS user then we urge you to email a complaint to Apple by clicking on the link below:

Email to: Steve Jobs, Philip Schiller, and Developer Programs at Apple

As the issues raised by iFlow apply also to, well, Amazon, this is not the end of this story.