According to an author’s first-hand account, Apple has begun rejecting eBooks containing links to rival Amazon for publication in its iBookstore. Seth Godin, a best-selling author 13 times over, and founder of Squidoo, reports that Apple rejected his new manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams,” due to the presence of hyperlinks, which woud send readers to the Amazon pages of the books he mentioned in his own work. Apple’s rejection letter stated the reasons for non-publication clearly and succinctly: “Multiple links to Amazon store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link,” according to an article Godin published yesterday on Paid Content.
Major book retailers and publishing houses have been playing Russian roulette with Amazon for years, not the least of which included last week’s announcement that Amazon would be pulling over 5,000 titles from independent book distributor IPG over disagreements in contract terms. Just last month, Barnes & Noble itself announced that it would refuse to carry any books published by Amazon in its retail stores, an attempt to keep Amazon out of the brick and mortar business. However, this could mark a decisive turning point for Apple, which has in effect denied artistic content from being published due to a competitive conflict, as opposed to an ethical or moral issue, as it was previously wont to do. Last year, however, Apple released a revision to its iOS software — the OS that powers popular devices such as the iPhone and iPad — which perhaps laid the ground work for such a decision. The update forced Amazon, among others, to remove links to its own bookstore from its popular Kindle app, a move consumers found frustrating, and some deemed anti-competitive.
What is more troubling than a standard policy shift, a la the iOS change (no links to stores through apps, use mobile Safari instead), is the notion that there was a degree of subjectivity to blocking Amazon; because the book was rejected on grounds of content, it opens the doors to further subjective restrictions. What if a specific hardcover is only available through Amazon? As Godin writes,
“I think that Amazon and Apple and B&N need to take a deep breath and make a decision on principle: what’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace. If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to. A small bookstore doesn’t have that obligation, but if they’re seeking to be the one and only, if they have a big share of the market, then they do, particularly if they’re integrating the device into the store. I also think that if any of these companies publish a book, they ought to think really hard before they refuse to let the others sell it.”
Godin goes on to suggest that Apple’s policy would be similar to YouTube blocking videos that promoted Vimeo.
In traditional business, however, Godin’s claims wouldn’t hold much water. No brick and mortar bookstore in the world would allow an author to sell a book that included advertisements for a competing bookstore on the 35th page, and why should Apple’s iBookstore be any different? But there lies a fundamental difference between how competition should be viewed online, as Godin states, “Once you are reading your books on a device that is hooked into a store, the person curating the store has a great deal more power than a local bookseller ever did.”
In the most basic terms, Apple’s move is a clear case of a business protecting against blatant free advertising — but in a world of restrictive online ecosystems and increasingly closed-off operating systems, tech companies may need to take a step back and consider how their decisions will influence the most important players in all of this: the readers.