@interface AQBlog : NSBlog @end

Tutorials, musings on programming and ePublishing

Talk to Me

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Apple’s Installer doesn’t do uninstallation. It could, since a certain amount of metadata is left around, but that could be extended to something truly useful and Apple-like in its simplicity.

I have an idea which I think will fill this gap in a really neat fashion, and which will have benefits for both end users and developers. I’m working on this idea right now (doing actual bona-fide unit tests for it too!) but I’d like some more data from the world at large. In that vein, I’d like to know what people are missing in the current uninstallation landscape on the Mac, both users and developers.

Some possible areas to consider:

For Users:
  • Ancillary files (plugins, templates, preferences, anything that’s not a document) hanging around, which are of no use without the application.
  • Temporary files or caches which might stay until the OS feels like making some space. etc.
  • Ideal user experience?
    • How much interaction overhead would you be willing to put up with?
    • Conversely, how automagical could the process be without giving you the ‘did it even do anything’ heebie-jeebies? To developers:
For Developers:
  • How interested would you be in something which could clean up all those ancillary bits?
  • How much work would you be prepared to put into describing these things?
  • If you could build the engine into your app directly (perhaps like Sparkle or Growl), what would it be worth to you, if anything?

Please ping @alanQuatermain with responses.

There are more questions, and more concerns, and more wishes I’m sure. You know more of them than me, so let me know: what would you like to have?

The Real Outcome of the New In-App Purchase Rules

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The root cause for so much of the subscription ruckus, I think, isn’t that 30% number — it’s that Apple pulled the rug out from under some major apps after the fact. … [T]heir months or years of hard work, and in many cases, their entire businesses — can be yanked by Apple’s whim at any time for reasons that they couldn’t have anticipated or avoided. … [I]f Apple breaks that expectation by changing an important rule in a way that we think isn’t justifiable, it’s perfectly reasonable for us to complain about it as loudly as possible in order to effect change.

I’ve been saying these same things all along and have primarily been getting shit for it. Now that more admired people are saying the same thing, will something good come of the argument? I’ve been talking to (and convincing, I think) some more well-known pundits in the last few days, so I certainly hope so; it’s clear that my own writing isn’t good enough to generate the same sort of publicity as folks like Marco, so I’ve long since aimed to just pass on my arguments to them for dissemination through more artful prose than I can provide.

That said, there’s something else worth pointing out, just to see if Mr. Gruber still thinks it’s unacceptable for me to feel it’s unjustified for Apple to change the rules like they are.

Apple's Defense Against Unfair Competition Charges

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Mike Cane makes the case that iBooks is download-only to avoid potential charges of unfair competition from the EU and/or the Feds:

If Kindle, Kobo, Sony, and others complain, Apple has these lines of defense:

1) We’re all on equal ground with Kindle, Kobo, Sony, etc.

2) Our app has to be chosen and downloaded just like theirs

3) We can show you only X number of iOS users download iBooks

4) We can in fact show you more people use the Kindle app than iBooks!

5) We’re actually disadvantaged — we don’t have a desktop app like Kindle, Kobo, Sony, and Adobe!

6) No one can buy our eBooks unless they download iBooks, period

7) We have no unfair advantage, we’re giving users a choice

There are of course counterpoints to these, but this is exactly Apple's plan; they list the app on the 'built-in apps' page after all, so that's how they see it. It also uses private APIs all over the place, just like App Store apps aren't allowed to do.

However, they do prompt every user who doesn't already have a copy of iBooks to download it each time they visit the App Store. I've seen it myself. And they do have an unfair advantage: they're not paying 30% of their revenue to their competitors.

They are however in the enviable position of being able to mandate that their competitors hand over 30% of revenue to them, apparently unconcerned that most of their competitors keep barely 10% of that revenue for themselves anyway. So it's fine for them to ask their competitors to pay out-of-pocket to have apps on the App Store, never to make any money from them.

Apparently.

A Better Idea for eBook Libraries

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I understand the publishers' concern: buy an eBook, it lasts forever. It never needs to be restocked, and can be duplicated and backed up really easily. Previously, they had a reason to expect repeat purchases from libraries as they replaced stolen or damaged books. eBooks potentially cause their income from libraries to drop by a substantial enough amount that they would need to find new revenue streams in order to continue operating at the level they currently manage.

HarperCollins' idea, to make eBooks expire after 26 loans so the library must buy another copy, is frankly ridiculous. They say themselves that this approach was chosen based on the life-cycle of print books:

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

jTheir response is to try and emulate that to keep the purchase/re-purchase model going. A better response would be to look at what they're providing in an eBook, what their costs are, what their likely losses are (people loading eBooks get the exact same experience as those who purchase them, on the whole), and make a proposition based on that.

So here's my suggestion:

  1. Figure out what a library would usually spend to keep a book in their library each year.
  2. Round that figure down a bit (makes it more compelling for purchaser, and takes into account that your own costs are at least a little lower).
  3. Charge libraries a yearly (or, if you like, monthly) fee to be able to offer that eBook.

The fees would likely be higher initially, for the newest releases, and would drop over time in a predetermined manner. This has the added benefit for both parties that it makes it simpler for both of them to do their accounting, since they’ll know what their costs are ahead of time, rather than having their accounting subject to the whims of library borrowers.

How about that?

eBook Sellers & In-App Purchase

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Earlier today, Mark Topham pointed me towards IAP ‘consumables’, a method by which a user could be billed, say, $4.99, but which would still bill them if we put through the transaction again (for a different $4.99 book).

This solves the ‘2.5M into 3500 doesn't go’ problem fairly nicely, but it has a few problems which undermine Apple's altruistic spin on things:

First, some problems for the user:

  • SKUs now refer to price points, not books, so users must still have an Amazon/B&N/Kobo account to keep track of their purchases.j
  • This therefore doesn't keep the user ‘safe’ from us ‘evil’ vendors, since no useful information on their purchases is attached to their Apple accounts.

Some problems for businesses:

  • In-app purchasing is now literally only used for billing a user's credit card (at ten times the market rate). We still need to do everything else that we do, because we can't use IAP to determine whether an item has already been purchased. The onus is on us to ensure that we don't bill the user twice for the same item, etc.
  • If the existing prices don't exactly match Apple's pricing tiers in all territories, we will need to renegotiate with every publisher for new prices in every IAP territory, separately. And we'll need to do it again if Apple alters the territory maps, taking content offline (for everybody) while doing so to avoid breaking either the publishers’ or Apple's rules.

And a problem for both sides:

  • None of Apple's listed prices include sales tax. You only see that when your bill arrives via email a bit later. Kobo, at least, keeps track of this and tells the user before confirming the purchase what the full price will be. When using IAP, we can't accurately determine where you're being billed, so we can't advise you of taxation. We can guess, based on your address, but we've no means of telling if your Apple account is using that address or a different one in another territory (since people move countries all the time these days).

So, at the end, what has been gained, for each of the three parties involved?

The User:

  • Doesn't have to leave the app to make a purchase. Which was only required due to stipulation by Apple. No other benefit that I can see.

The eBook Vendor:

  • None that I can see.

Apple:

  • Gets 30% of their competitors' revenue, along with lots of analytics, again from their competitors.

In Summary

This runs counter to Apple's expressed intent of making things easier for the user. If that were the case, they would offer better catalog support, or would allow vendors to implement their own purchase hooks. As an example, what I'd have implemented for Kobo, based on what their system is actually already capable of handling in-app, would have been a popup confirmation almost identical to the IAP one, with the addition of sales tax information. That doesn't sound user-unfriendly to me. It actually sounds more user-friendly than IAP, right now.

Another Analogy/story? Okay, Why Not…

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Earlier today Mike Cane pointed me to an article comparing the hullabaloo upon Apple's 30% cut to the lack of anger at Amazon's former 70% cut.

I commented on that article (largely aiming at the other comments rather than the article itself), although I got rather entwined in the story I was writing and forgot to mention that there's an apples vs. oranges thing there– on one side, a vendor is taking a percentage from a content owner, while on the other, a third party is charging a vendor who is already taking a lower percentage from a content owner.

That said, when I found out about Amazon's enforced 70% commission I thought that was ridiculous too. Having only learned this when they dropped it to 30% however, I felt no compunction to weigh in. Now that Apple is demanding that the whole 30% Amazon now gets be handed over to Apple, well, that's a little different, and one would expect Apple to at least give some indication that they were open to the idea of changing that percentage, or would make it 30% of revenue, not retail, etc.

But to those as yet uncertain of how the math works out, what follows is the same hypothetical story from my comment on the article above.

The DOJ and the FTC and the EU, Oh My!

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The Justice Department and the FTC are both interested in examining whether Apple is running afoul of U.S. antitrust laws by funneling media companies’ customers into the payment system for its iTunes store—and taking a 30% cut, the people familiar with the situation said. The agencies both enforce federal antitrust laws and would have to decide which one of them would take the lead in the matter. … Apple’s rules don’t stop media companies from selling digital subscriptions on their own. But the company imposed restrictions that could make that option less attractive to customers, and steer more sales through its own system.

Let’s hope they don’t focus solely on subscriptions or music, but look at the eBook business too. I pick that one because Apple joined the eBook business on iOS late in the game and is now using these rules to try and force the existing companies to either go out of business or to raise their prices significantly higher than those of Apple’s iBookstore (thus going out of business later, or otherwise pushing their customers to Apple).

There’s also the question of the value provided by Apple’s in-app purchasing channel:

  • If the value is in the in-app-purchasing API, then that doesn’t scale between a $100/month and a $1M/month vendor: both using the same API, yet one is paying $30/month, the other $300’000/month.
  • If the value is in the ease of payment processing, then the question is whether it’s unfair of Apple to mandate that everyone uses their service at 30% commission rather than, say, PayPal for 3%, when they both provide the same service (PayPal has an API too, after all).

If this really is all about the end-user experience and not about gaining competitive advantage or making a cash-grab, then Apple should be willing to open up a layer of the in-app purchasing API such that it could hook into alternative payment providers (similar to the NSAtomicStore for CoreData). That way the users get the great experience, vendors don’t necessarily have access to the users’ payment details, but they can feed the transaction into a separate payment handler, for instance PayPal or others. At this point, PayPal could also charge a flat fee or an increased commission for the use of their iOS in-app-purchase payment connector as well. But if you’re selling your own content directly and value ease-of-development, then Apple still has a good value proposition, and can make other changes to further entice users.

It’s all about market forces. Having one arm of a company simply mandate the use of the same company’s other profits is somewhat naughty.

At least Microsoft played dirty to get rid of Netscape and WordPerfect— they didn’t outright ban their use in the EULA.

Why Vendors Are Annoyed by the New In-App Purchase Rules

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I was asked in a comment to another post to explain why my reaction to IAP isn’t just indicative of greed on the part of publishers, who use to get something for nothing, and don’t want to start paying for it now. Since then it’s been suggested that I promote my response to a full post, so I’m now doing that, tweaking it only slightly to better indicate that my points apply equally to any eBook vendor.

Remember: This is not Kobo talking, this is me. I happen to have some knowledge about how things worked at Kobo, so I have some knowledge about the business in general. It is from that perspective which I now write.

First and foremost, however: Amazon, B&N, and Kobo are most emphatically not publishers. They are vendors who work with hundreds or thousands of publishers the world over in an attempt to help those publishers sell content online. One such channel is iOS. They don’t have to pay their web hosts a percentage of all sales, or the creators of other operating systems, or the telecoms providers, or the ISPs. Only Apple claims that they should get 30% of all content sales which take place on a platform they created. They don’t yet claim that for Mac OS. Might they in future? Who knows…

Apple States the Obvious and Inevitable

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If you’re going to consume content on their device, Apple would prefer that you buy
that content from them and not from a competitor.

Or if you do buy want to buy it from the competitor, that’s okay, but then there’s
a corkage fee. Only you don’t pay the corkage fee, the competitor does. (Well,
unless they pass off the extra cost to you.)

Can you read iBooks on the Kindle? What about Sony’s books? Nope.

It’s neither complicated nor evil. [It’s business](http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/01/i-quit-quitting-the-ipad/).

For those of us who aren't 100% based on iOS, we'd be quite happy to let you read your Apple-supplied iBooks on our devices. We believe our reading experience is superior. But that's not about to happen, because Apple doesn't share their DRM with us. We can, however, display books purchased through our own store, downloaded from O'Reilly or Pragmatic Publishing, or anything published using Adobe Digital Editions.

The restaurant analogy still doesn't hold up though. I, as a consumer, don't want to use iBooks. I would prefer to use a different app, whether Kindle, Kobo, Stanza, or whatever. But Apple would like me to pay them anyway. Not only must I purchase the device from them, I must only purchase content for that device through a means which makes them more money.

To take the restaurant analogy to its correct conclusion, we have a few players:

The restaurants are providers of food. eBookstores are providers of eBooks. Therefore restaurants here would be analogous to Apple, Amazon, Kobo, etc.

The food is analogous to an eBook. If I want to read an eBook purchased from Apple, I must use iBooks. If I want to read a Kindle book, I use Kindle, for a Kobo book, the Kobo app (unless I download the Adobe Digital Editions version of the book, at which point I can use any of a bunch of readers, on iOS and otherwise). This is fair, since I wouldn't buy a pizza from Pizza Hut and walk into La Dolce Vita to eat it alongside people paying twice as much for their gourmet pizzas.

So where is the iPad in this analogy? I don't see it. Mr. Siegler would have us believe that the iPad is the restaurant, which is incorrect. The iPad acts as neither merchant nor distributor or provider. It is a platform, a means by which some action might be performed. For a restaurant, one could say the iPad is analogous to crockery or cutlery. The iOS SDK might be an oven, for instance. Content publishers and app developers would each be part of the kitchen team: creating the food and making it look presentable in their own unique ways.

The original restaurant analogy, then, would suggest that Apple is a restaurant which makes its own utensils and sells them, but then says that you can't take those utensils elsewhere— if you use a fork purchased from Apple Restaurant (Caffé Macs?) then you must also purchase food from Apple Restaurant to eat with it. When I buy cutlery from Marks & Spencer, there's no requirement that I also purchase food from their food aisle.

iOS is the medium by which consumption occurs in this case, nothing more. The publishers make the content, us developers make it look pretty, each in our own way. Apple is one such developer. Us distributors attempt to make customers purchase said prettified content from our stores. Again, Apple is one such distributor.

When I purchase books from Apple's iBookstore, they are providing a new service to me– the assembly and provision of an eBook. When I purchase one from Amazon or Kobo, Apple is providing no such service to me whatsoever. The argument that they have the right to claim some money because I'm using an Apple device is false, because I've already paid for that device– upwards of $700 in this case. I don't get charged by Apple when I browse the internet or watch YouTube, so why does Apple need to take a cut when I download an eBook?

Answer: they don't. They're just being greedy.

It's wrong. Let's stop trying to blindly justify it, m'kay? Let's let our displeasure be known.