With Tribune Company's announcement yesterday that it is seeking bankruptcy protection it's hard to find much good news in the world of print publishing these days. One glimmer of hope is the migration of traditional media from atoms to bits.
The combination of rising cost and the worldwide economic slowdown are forcing print publishers to find ways to reduce expenses and many are re-inventing themselves as digital publishers. Two major book publishers recently announced mobile phone initiatives as part of the transition to a digital future.
Penguin Group USA has launched Penguin Mobile (iTunes) a free iPhone application which enables users to read about new releases from the company and listen to the Penguin Podcast. Unfortunately the application falls short of being able to download and read full books, instead you'll have to settle for downloading chapter excerpts of select titles.
Random House Publishing Group jumped on the digital bandwagon yesterday making several book titles available for free on the iPhone, including works by Alan Furst and Arthur Phillips. The free books are available for download from within Stanza (iTunes) the free eBook reader application for the iPhone.
The AP reports that HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Simon & Schuster also offer digital book downloads to mobile phones.
With the handwriting on the wall for traditional ink and paper publishers it's surprising that Apple hasn't made an effort to capitalize on the digital book market. Especially given the surprising success of the Amazon Kindle.
It would be trivial for Apple to add a "books" category to iTunes and perhaps buy/or license Stanza and roll it into iTunes. The hard part would licensing the content from the publishers, but if Apple did it with the music labels the book publishers should be easy by comparison.
Apple should spend some of its vast resources on building out the nascent eBook market. It needs to swoop in and rescue the print publishers like they did the record industry – which had one foot in the grave before iTunes arrived on the scene.