First, Apple had their big press conference to introduce the iPad. Okay, get over the name jokes ("Yes, the iPad is small and light, but can you swim in it?"). In a few months, nobody is gong to be joking about the iTampon. Frankly, this is a GREAT product. Some people are criticizing the iPad for (1) not multi-tasking, (2) not having Flash, (3) not having a camera, (4) not having them all be 3G... but those criticisms are overblown. The iPad is a combination e-book, netbook computer, and portable photo display. It has a touchscreen keypad, is great for surfing the web and watching movies, and will simply be the best e-book reader on the market. For those of us who travel, this is fabulous, because we can now leave our heavy laptops at home.
And the cost for an entry-level iPad is $499 -- not cheap, but fully half the cost everyone was projecting. Apple has a history of making new products like this work, and I think this one is going to work in a big way. In fact, word is the folks at the Apple press conference specifically held off talking about the e-book capabilities of the iPad until last, because they feared that one application would overshadow everything else. And... it will. Jeff Bezos at Amazon is looking at the future, comparing this to his Kindle, and recognizing that he's in a tough place. Amazon has dedicated themselves to the Kindle, which is a good product that is dedicated to one thing -- reading books electronically. But the iPad allows you to read books AND watch movies AND surf the web AND check your emails AND keep all your photos close by. And, of course, it's got Apple behind it, pushing to make sure you know it's cool.
If you want to see what all the talk is about, visit: http://www.apple.com/ipad/#video
Second, there was a huge battle taking place in the e-book market. This also relates to Amazon, and if you're a writer, to your future. Let me offer a bit of background. The folks at Amazon want to rule the world. They really want to wipe out the competition to their Kindle for e-books (and there's nothing wrong with that -- every agent would prefer to represent ALL good authors, and every publisher would rather OWN the bestseller lists). The problem is that Amazon has forced a bad deal onto publishers, and therefore onto writers. They want to list all their e-books at a retail price of $9.99, and then keep 70% of the income. That means the publisher, who has invested money in editing, copyediting, interior design, marketing, and a thousand other things to get your book to consumers, is making almost nothing. And, frankly, it means the writer is making even less. Some of the publishers (notably David Young, CEO at Hachette and my old boss) has made it clear they can't live with that arrangement. Amazon is taking some of the best books and making them loss-leaders, which isn't terribly helpful in a 90/10 business like book publishing.
So last week the folks at MacMillan announced they couldn't live with it any more. They stated there was a price they needed their books sold at. (This is unusual. I mean... if you create shoes and sell them to Sears, you don't have too many concerns what Sears charges consumers so long as you get paid, right?) In this case, everyone in the writing community was cheering MacMillan. The company simply made a point that they need to be able to make money in order to stay in business, and they offered a very clear note to Amazon, that in essence went like this: "List the books for what we suggest as a retail price, and let consumers decide whether to pay that or not."
Amazon's response? They stopped selling MacMillan books. In what can only be described as a nakedly political move, they took all the "buy" buttons off books published by MacMillan. If you had a MacMillan book on your "wish list," it disappeared, without explanation. If you had downloaded sample chapters to your Kindle, those were gone. You could still buy a book through a third-party seller, but not directly from Amazon. That meant even bestsellers (such as Andrew Young's fascinating but repugnant tell-all on Sen. John Edwards, THE POLITICIAN, which ranked #9 on Amazon's bestseller list) was no longer for sale by Amazon.
Um... let's just say that was a bit of a reach by Mr Bezos and his minions at Amazon. Publishers made it clear they weren't going to be pushed around (especially with Steve Jobs and the Apple team ready to launch an e-Book store). Authors, who you would think couldn't live without Amazon, came down squarely on the side of MacMillan -- insisting it wasn't fair to simply de-list all MacMillan books. And literary agents made it clear they wanted the longterm health of the industry to take precedence over short-term sales.
So Amazon announced they "will have to capitulate," and made noises about how unfair it all is, and complained that "MacMillan has a monopoly over its own titles" (a laugh-out-loud statement, coming in the face of Amazon's own clear desire for an e-book monopoly). If you listen to the folks at Amazon, they make it sound like they've just got the best interests of consumers at heart, and those terrible publishers are ruining it for them. My response: "Yeah, I'll cry all night."
Look, sometimes you just have to take the good of the industry-at-large into consideration. What MacMillan did was good for ALL writers. And other publishers are going to jump on board. We'll look at a breakdown of the actual dollars earned in a few days, but for now, THIS is where the biggest news of publishing is happening.