When you look at this ebook game from a distance it seems to make a little sense:
1) Microsoft & NewCo. = Content, Device, Apps + possible future Mobile play via Nokia & Windows 8
2) Apple = Content+ Device, Apps + Mobile play
3) Amazon = Content, Device, Apps + Whispersync making Mobile already a significant play in my book but an actual partnership not yet to hand
4) Google = Content (-ish), Apps + Mobile (with Motorola) and a Device neutral stance
Leaving Sony and Kobo somewhat on the sidelines missing some element of the game. Of course those two, like the previous four also have a crucial component in the forthcoming game, lots of cash. And, seeing as folks seem to be tooling up for a platform war, I reckon they are gonna need that.
Of course we know already that all the players in the top league have some fashion of a flaw.
For Amazon the very success of the company’s ebook strategy has created a huge problem in that they are now the team to beat. Apple has a locked down and locked in strategy as closed as the rest of its walled gardens and there’s little chance of it opening voluntarily. B&N and Nook well they as yet have little international footprint (what does this move mean for Waterstones digital strategy?) Google, well where to start with Google? Its execution in the ebook space has been poor and right now does not inspire confidence, though it does have what I think is the better long-term concept.
The biggest problem for everyone though is that a platform war is pretty pointless in anything longer than a medium term horizon (by which I mean 5-10 years). Just as Google is failing to maintain its grip on attention and Facebook is growing stronger every day, someone will rise to take Facebook’s place and then another will rise to take theirs. This impermanence of pre-dominance is, for me, a defining characteristic of the web, and it is driven by the incredibly low to non-existent barriers to entry online because the WEB IS THE PLATFORM, which fosters competition, innovation and experimentation.
That is not to say that those who succeed will inevitably meet a doom, Google is doing quite handsomely thank you, and no doubt Facebook will do well for some time too. Which means that in the medium term a successful ebook platform will milk the system just as Amazon appears to be doing right now. I just believe that their platform has no long-term, sustainable foundation. Moving against Amazon is mostly pointless, rather the focus should be on finding a way around Amazon using the web as a platform and not relying on another closed platform.
Where does that put publishers? In a familiar spot I would argue. I wrote a piece two years ago about ebooks and how it was important that publishers focus on:
developing an expertise in how to sell content in many different forms and at many different prices to different audiences. Publishers should be platform agnostic, selling wherever readers are willing to buy and not focusing on if it is an e-book, an app, online access, segments, chapters, quotes, mash-ups, readings, conferences, or anything else (a point made Friday on Publishing Perspectives by Clive Rich).
Strangely I don’t think I would change a word of that paragraph today. Nor would I shy away from the other recommendation I made:
publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.
I just wish I could recall them when I make my day-to-day decisions!
PS: Worth reading all these pieces:
1) The Window Is Closing
2) Why Ebooks Will Soon be Obsolete
3) Microsoft Looking To be Third Time Luck In Its Bid For Ebooks