Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Apple iBookstore goes live for Australia with six local publishers' ebooks

After only offering free out-of-copyright titles to Australian customers since May, the Australian Apple iBookstore launched with local paid content yesterday.

Among the first group of six Australian publishers making their titles available through the store is Hachette Australia, which has not previously sold ebooks on any platform in Australia. Hachette Australia managing director Malcolm Edwards told the Weekly Book Newsletter the company had made its titles available to Apple through ‘an agency model', and said around 100 Hachette titles would soon be available on the store.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed that ‘thousands of titles from both major and independent publishers, including Macmillan, Hatchette Book Group, Hardie Grant, HarperCollins Publishers, Murdoch Publishers and Wiley, are now available on the Australian iBookstore'.

Hardie Grant said it would be making more than 200 titles available, HarperCollins said 'thousands' of its titles would be available through the store and Pan Macmillan's Victoria Nash told the Weekly Book Newsletter the publisher had over 250 titles with Apple now and said the remainder of the company's digital catalogue, now totaling 460 Australian titles, would be ‘available very soon, once everything has been processed'.

Murdoch Books is 'very excited to be among the first Australian publishers to have its ebooks available for purchase on Apple's iBookstore in Australia,' with about 20 Murdoch titles live on the iBooks site at launch.

In educational publishing, John Wiley & Sons confirmed its business imprint Wrightbooks would be ‘making a wide selection of titles available on Apple's iBookstore in Australia'.

Several other publishers, including Random House, Allen & Unwin, Simon & Schuster, Text and Scribe, confirmed to the Weekly Book Newsletter that they were in continued discussions with Apple, but did not yet have anything to report.

Publishers who had made their books available pointed to the success of the iBookstore in the US and UK, with HarperCollins Australia CEO Michael Moynahan saying the popularity of the iPad and iBookstore in those markets ‘indicates that the market available to Australian authors through this platform will be significant here in Australia'. Hachette Australia managing director Malcolm Edwards said the company was ‘absolutely delighted that so many of our books will be available on the Australian iBookstore, as we are committed to ensuring readers can enjoy the very best writing whenever, and however, they want to buy and read it'.

'Surprise and disappointment' from those that missed out on launch
However, not all publishers were happy with the news of the launch, with some independent publishing houses expressing surprise and disappointment that despite ongoing discussions they had not been kept in the loop about the launch by Apple.

The launch of paid content on the Australian iBookstore came before today's announcement that Chris Burgess had been appointed to the role of manager, iBooks Australia and New Zealand.

A number of the publishers whose content is not yet available on the iBookstore have pointed out that iPad/iPhone users can already obtain their ebooks from other platforms including Kobo and Kindle. Similarly, some of the lists being promoted by iBooks, such as the thousands of Libre Digital and Smashwords titles, have been available via Kobo for some time.

Google, which still has not launched its much-anticipated Google Editions ebook platform, is also keen to reiterate that is continues to work in the background. Google Books' Australian partner manager Mark Tanner told the Weekly Book Newsletter 'we are already working with many Australian and New Zealand publishers large and small and we're looking to build on these important partnerships ahead of the launch [of Editions].'

Prices on the iBookstore range from $2.99 for ‘classics', to a mid range for many titles of $11.99, $12.99 and $14.99, and as high as $39.99 for some titles. The store currently offers around 40,000 titles, but the vast majority are free or low-priced classics.

Comparing prices across a number of different ebook platforms now available to Australian consumers, prices for some titles vary, depending on whether they are purchased from the iBookstore, the Kobo platform, Amazon's Kindle or via Dymocks.

Hachette Australia CEO Malcolm Edwards has confirmed the publisher has signed with both the iBookstore and Kobo under ‘an agency agreement', but declined to comment on the publisher's pricing strategy.

Under the agency model agreements between Apple and publishers currently in use in the US and UK, publishers set the price of their ebooks and discounting by retailers is not allowed.

The Weekly Book Newsletter understands that Hachette Australia is the first publisher to come to an agency agreement with Kobo, however other publishers may also come to an agency agreement with the Canadian-based ebook distributor in future.

However Malcolm Neil, communications manager for REDgroup Retail which offers ebooks through the Kobo platform, said that ‘observing the situation in the UK, if publishers do move to an agency model in Australia in future, it will take a while for [associated price changes] to wash through the market'.

Pan Macmillan's Victoria Nash told the Weekly Book Newsletter that the publisher provided a price list for its digital books, but said retailers could set their own prices.'This digital list price applies to all retailers and is constantly changing on the retailer side as it's always the case that retailers can price our ebooks and print books at whatever price they want,' she said. 'With a new entrant like Apple in the market I would expect other ebook retailers to review their pricing but all retailers have the same digital list price from us.'

Allen & Unwin's Elizabeth Weiss said the launch of local paid content on the Apple iBookstore was one of a number of developments, including the recent launch of the Sony ereader in Australia and the news that Target is now selling an ereader, that indicated ‘everything is shaping up for it to be the Christmas when [ebooks] come to be a significant part of the market'.

‘They're being very actively promoted,' she said.

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