5 Ways the Apple iPad Could Change e-Books

Now that we’ve left the hall of mirrors that was the Apple-tablet rumor mill, we can finally take a deep breath and ask: What’s up with the iPad? (Seriously, we’re really all gonna call it that?) Seeing as we’re avid readers, let’s shake our magic eight ball and ask what it might mean for e-books. Our take after the jump.

iBookstore pricing

From screenshots at least, it looks like the iBook store might have variable prices for e- (sorry, i-) books. This is a shot across the bow for Amazon, which has been fighting book publishers over e-book price points. Amazon likes $9.99, but publishers are used to charging upwards of 20 bucks for a hardback. The screenshots seem to indicate the iBookstore could meet somewhere in the middle for new releases. The tiff with Amazon has gotten so bad that certain publishers have started delaying the releases of their ebooks to avoid cannibalizing their hardback sales. (There’s been some speculation that Amazon is fighting back by hitting those same books with dozens of one-star ratings.) Not coincidentally, the publishers who were dragging their heels with cheaper ebooks are some of the same ones lining up early for the iBook store, including Hachette and Simon and Schuster. The way we’ve heard it, this is not just about price. Ebooks are a relatively small section of the book market right now, but they’re growing very fast. And if Amazon ends up as the primary distributor and sets the prices for ebooks — well, that leaves publishers pretty scared they’ll be cut out. On the other hand, everyone who saw what the iPod did to CD sales would caution that the iPad might not be the messiah many in book publishing clearly want it to be. But — for now — it looks like the iBook store may allow publishers more say in setting the prices of ebooks. Which puts Amazon’s marketshare squarely in Apple’s sights.

The iPad uses an open-source format for books

The iBookstore will sell content in the most commonly accepted open ebook format, EPUB. The Kindle store uses a proprietary format called AZW. Sounds like Apple’s coming down on the side of open source, right? Well, not so fast. It’s not yet clear whether you could load up a PDF you “found” into the iBook reader (as you can with the Kindle), or whether you’ll be stuck getting all your content from the iBookstore. It’s also still sketchy whether buying books in an EPUB format from the iBookstore means they’ll be readable on other ereading devices by the likes of Sony, Barnes and Noble, etc, or whether Apple has some sort of DRM of its own. But if Apple is really committing to selling DRM-free ebooks, that could put a lot of pressure on Amazon and everyone else to adopt the standard. That might bring the publishing world a whole lot closer to its own mp3 era.

It’s got a real screen

The iPad features a 9.7” high-res screen, not an e-ink display like many other e-readers. It remains to be seen whether that large display and the accompanying 1GHz processor will make reading books on a screen more palatable to consumers. But it does open the possibility of full-color ebooks.

There’s buy-in from publishers — the big ones, at least

HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette Book Group are among the publishers who are on board at this time, and the NY Times speculates that Random House can’t be far behind. This is a good sign that the iBook store will have robust initial content. What else would we like to see? More involvement from indie publishers, too. Sure, the iTunes store is great and all, but for the first few years especially, it leaned heavily on the major labels, spurring the growth of independent distribution sites like emusic. Can we expect the same for ebooks?

It’s 500 bucks

It looks like one of the goals of all those controlled leaks was to set expectations for a thousand-dollar device, only to reveal a base model at about $499 (with 3G). To put that in perspective, a Kindle or a Nook will cost you about $259. Could a more expensive but more full-featured device kickstart ebooks?

Got something to say about the iPad and what it could do for (or is that to?) e-books? Share it in the comments.