Monday, January 4, 2010

Apple Tablet -- what it means for print-on-demand

The big buzz of the new year is the supposed imminent launch of the oft-threatened Apple Tablet PC, or iSlate, or whatever. Bottom line is that if it's not ready this time it will be coming soon. So how does this new device change the game for POD?

First off, we have to realize the Apple Tablet is different than other e-Readers for one reason. It's Apple. And we all know they think differently. My friend Antonio suggested a recent post from John Siracusa at ARS Technica to make that point. Apple does not need to release some sort of "entirely new or totally amazing" tablet for it to be successful, but it will distinguish itself by the three factors that separates them from the pack. Those are 1) over 100 million credit-card bearing customers, 2) over 125,000 developers that have created over 100,000 iPhone apps, and 3) Apple's relationships with content owners that is unrivaled in the industry.

So what will the device likely be? It will certainly be color. It will be a touch-screen. And it will likely come in around the size of a Kindle, so somewhat smaller than a laptop but bigger than a phone. If this is correct, then it would not be surprising that Apple is looking to create a new paradigm for reading rich content digitally, which means bad news for an already floundering print magazine marketplace.

But what about POD? I believe the Tablet can be another shift toward it. Regardless of how great the color screen is on the device, the best books will always be ink on paper. But with rich color available on a digital reader, the marketing of these "books to keep" becomes easier and much more effective if you are a significant publisher or if you are hoping to sell a few books that you publish yourself. Add to that the ability to create hybrid media that includes audio and video of the back story about the book and you can see how this device can be a game changer.

My expectation is that the Tablet will be a bit expensive for the average consumer and that it's real impact on book publishing will not be felt in 2010 but in the coming years as the device evolves and the price comes down. But if you are in the print business now, don't forget about those 125,000 iPhone developers who already have the skill set to create new applications for a Tablet (assuming it will be built on the same core as OS and GUI as iPhone, which I think is a given). I'm sure they are thinking about your business.

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