iBooks to be included with every iOS 8 device; will the DoJ take notice?

Apart from all the little features it’s swiping from Android (finally, widgets, custom keyboards, and cross-app sharing APIs!), the new iPhone OS 8 includes one little feature that Mark Coker of Smashwords believes will be a “game changer.” For the first time, iBooks will be bundled directly into every new iOS device sold.

This might not seem like a big deal at first—iBooks has, after all, been available for four years to anyone who wants to download it—but never underestimate the laziness barrier. People who weren’t that “into” e-books might never have bothered to grab it on their own, but if it was put right there in front of them they might go ahead and use it and even buy books from it. As Coker rightly points out, that’s big news for anyone who sells via the iBooks store (including, naturally, Smashwords).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be wine and roses. Nate Hoffelder notes on The Digital Reader that this could invite more anti-trust scrutiny on Apple, just as Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer with Windows did for Microsoft. What’s more, Apple charges a 30% vig to any e-book or other media e-tailer who wants to include a media store within its application—giving iBooks a distinct advantage since it’s Apple’s own store and it doesn’t have to charge that extra 30% to itself. (Microsoft, at least, didn’t charge the makers of other web browsers money to let them run just as well on Windows as IE.)

Will this result in Department of Justice scrutiny? It’s worth remembering that one of the DoJ’s proposed sanctions against Apple in the anti-trust case was to roll back the 30% fee for in-app stores, at least for a couple of years. Judge Cote tossed that one out because she didn’t want to get bogged down in regulating Apple’s app store as well as the book business, but it does show that the DoJ is aware of the issue. And we just saw that they’ve been keeping a further eye on the publishers, too. It will be interesting to see if this leads to any further action on their part.

4 Comments on iBooks to be included with every iOS 8 device; will the DoJ take notice?

  1. The Microsoft scenario was very different. Netscape was the dominate browser in the market. The issue wasn’t that Microsoft gave away IE for free as another application, the issue was that they claimed it wasn’t an application but it was part of the OS. The install disabled Netscape as the browser of choice and launched IE instead. Microsoft argued that they couldn’t allow users to not install IE because it was part of the OS. It wasn’t until the court forced Microsoft to give users a choice of browser that the option of selecting a default browser became available and by then Netscape had lost the market share.

    The browser was new at the time and a lot of people believed the browser would totally replace the desktop. This was seen as a big threat to Microsoft because they feared the desktop would be Netscape and the OS wouldn’t matter.

    I haven’t heard that when you try to open any ePub on iOS that it’s going to redirect it to iBooks but if they did that it would be equivalent. I have 6 book reading apps on my iPhone/iPad (including) iBooks. I can use or not use any of them and I don’t see that changing.

  2. Okay, I give up. Why is this any different than Amazon including the Kindle reading app on all its tablets? Or Barnes & Noble including the Nook reading app on all its tablets? Or Google Play Books being preloaded on all Google Play Services-approved phones and tablets?

  3. Well, most of those other manufacturers aren’t blocking or charging a toll to their competitors’ readers. You can download the Kindle app onto the Nook HD and it works just fine, including the built-in e-book store.

  4. Let’s get realistic, perhaps seasoned with a dash of cynicism. What happens doesn’t depend on any legal merits. It depends of what Amazon whispers, perhaps through a nearby law firm, to DOJ’s lawyers.

    Why do I suggest that? Because the law firm that met with and encouraged the DOJ to go after Apple and the major publishers is about a ten-minute walk from Amazon’s international corporate headquarters. Those who think that law firm wasn’t acting as Amazon’s proxy are being quite naive. Amazon, knowing how unimaginative most reporters are, did not even try to hide what it was doing.

    When I lived in Seattle, I thought about making a Youtube video that’d start at the entrance to that law firm’s office and walk, crossing Dexter Avenue, to that closest Amazon security would let me get to Jeff Bezo’s executive offices.

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