Work in progress

The blogosphere has been buzzing since the App Store launched over last weekend with comments about 'dozy publishers' who have missed a great opportunity to make their books available on the iPhone. But apart from a few digital PR points scored against competing publishers, there doesn't seem to me to be any huge value in first mover advantage here for publishers, unless we want to make the decision to become software developers. The perception is that the App Store has 'opened up' the iPhone to publishers and to e-reading. The reality is that the iPhone has always been enabled for e-reading: you could read a PDF on the iPhone when it launched; you could preview books via online widgets in a browser; you could utilise the 'TextonPhone' application. So, whilst we have been awaiting the launch of the App Store with interest, we didn't see enormous advantage in, for example, creating a reading app ourselves or Being There on Day One, just for the sake of it. Will it really have been a huge mistake if we wait six months to see how things develop and then start to make our books available on the iPhone? I don't think so, actually. For us it was always a watching brief, to see what came out of it and then to see how things shook out.

What will emerge as the most popular reading app? Will a viable iPhone platform for sale of commercial ebooks be developed?

Interestingly the price of apps is already plummeting as free apps get more highly and more frequently rated and the paid-for apps drop down the ratings. Perhaps this suggests even more strongly that the App is not The Thing; it is merely a container or a channel for the content, which will still be The Thing. Many of the apps are great if you want to download a tonne of free Project Gutenberg ebooks and so on, but few seem to be offering paid-for titles and those which do often offer just one author's titles or even just one title. Which ones have developed the best commercial model, or whether there is an obvious platform winner, is still unclear. And surely the existing situation in which tonnes of different books are available as individual apps will only make clarity of choice and availability a nightmare for the consumer?

I don't agree with Kassia Krozer at Booksquare that DRM is the main issue (though it certainly still minimises massively the number of ebooks we could make available immediately on the iPhone as most authors / agents still insist upon it).

I think many publishers have decided, as Adam Hodgkin argues today, to 'wait and see'. Now is definitely a time for experimentation (and watch this space, as experiment we will). But I don't think any boats have been missed, here. What will really move things on is not tonnes of competing apps featuring individual authors or access to free stuff, but a cross-publisher platform for iPhone delivery, which enables clear consumer choice across a variety of titles.

And before you say it, I'm not sure Fictionwise is it unless they make their terms a *lot* more attractive for publishers.