The Three Big As: Apple, Amazon, Adobe

I was as surprised as everyone else this morning to learn that Amazon has reached out to purchase digital audiobook pioneer Audible.

It was just yesterday that I finally peeked into Amazon’s vaunted DRM-less MP3 site and learned that it sucketh. But that doesn’t mean it will always be that bad. Amazon is not about to give up on it. That it even offers it tells me Amazon intends to become surprisingly aggressive in the “content” (I hate that damned term!) area. It’s already offered video with Unbox (the less said about which, the better; it redefineth suck!).

Now Amazon is again making a push into audio with Audible.

Some people are wondering why Apple didn’t buy Audible.

At first, I wondered the same thing.

But then I thought, Apple hasn’t created a record label even though it’s been the largest distributor of music for several years. Why would Apple want to jump into publishing? (I am trying very hard not use that filthy term, “content creation.”)

I really can’t find a reason.

Publishing is a very difficult business. For complexity, variability — and downright ineffability — it makes hardware manufacturing and software creation look simple. I also have to imagine the margins for both hardware and software are much higher too.

Also, Apple has the leading container for media: the iPod. Apple has already acknowledged that it really doesn’t care how media gets into an iPod. It can be ripped (ideally legally) CD or DVD. It can be via the iTunes Store. It can even be DRM-less tracks from Amazon. What’s important to Apple is that the media resides on its iPod, its hardware.

Apple got into media distribution because it had to, to provide its media hardware with software. Had Jobs never gone the extra mile to create the iTunes Store and to remove friction from loading iPods, the accusations from the RIAA of the iPod being solely a theft facilitator would have been loud and long. We might have seen special taxes placed upon iPods, just as Canada has repeatedly tried.

Apple might be happy, in fact, to eventually get out of the media distribution business. Apple has already seen how certain media executives haven’t appreciated the convenience the iTunes Store offers.

I’ve argued that the iTunes Store should be made into a platform. Let every media publisher set up its own store that would be compatible with an iTunes software front-end on Macs and PCs. Such software is what Apple specializes in. With every publisher making “iPod feeding” so easy, claims of the iPod being a “piracy pod” would be de-legitimized.

As for Amazon purchasing Audible, I doubt it would eventually drop the iTunes Store as a method of distribution. What does Bezos care if an Audible file resides on an iPod, a (pardon the expression) Zune, or even a Kindle?

The company that Apple should acquire is one Cringely has made a case for: Adobe.

As far as I know, Adobe isn’t a publisher. It provides the tools publishers need. And what Cringely didn’t think of, is that purchasing Adobe would make Apple King of eBooks. Apple would suddenly have incredible leverage in the world of textual publishing.

This is an area that Amazon believes it has a lock on with its Kindle. In fact, Amazon went out of its way to create that lock by fiddling with the file format the Kindle uses, abandoning all customers of the underlying MobiPocket ebook format. (Amazon owns MobiPocket.) But that lock is vulnerable.

PDF is a widely used file format in publishing. So much so that the Sony Reader continues to enjoy an advantage over the Kindle with PDF. And Sony has been developing new software to enhance the PDF capabilities of its Reader.

Jobs has positioned himself as unethusiastic about ebooks. I maintain that is a bluff to mask his true intentions. Apple needn’t create a dedicated ebook device like the Sony Reader. Apple already has two such devices already suited for ebooks: the iPod Touch and the iPhone (and maybe a third one too). People have already used them for ebooks.

What awaits their legitimacy is the “iSDK” and Apple’s decision to create its own ebook file format for distribution of texts via the iTunes Store. (Note that the creation of such a file format would not prevent even Amazon’s MobiPocket division from creating reading software for the Touch and iPhone; the irony of an Apple device reading MobiPocket when the Kindle won’t!)

Perhaps acquiring Adobe is the key for Apple to enter ebooks in a major way. It would certainly blunt the advance of the Kindle. And even though many people consider PDF to be an unwieldy format, there’s Adobe Digital Editions and its .epub-format ability.

Some might argue that Adobe’s PDF file format is best used on desktop-class machines. That’s shortsighted. Here I have to use Microsoft as an example of vision: Despite the pig Windows CE was, Bill Gates realized that handheld processors would eventually become powerful enough to take advantage of its features. He was right. (Note I am not arguing that the software is any good; only that its reach exceeded the grasp of technology when it was first created.) The same thing will happen with processors in the iPod Touch and iPhone.

The questions to be answered:

1) Would Apple acquire Adobe to immediately ascend to the top of e-publishing?

2) Does Apple already have software of its own that it believes is superior?

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Explore posts in the same categories: eBooks, Music, Tech - Apple, Tech - Microsoft, Tech - Other, Tech - Sony

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