Today Amazon is launching Kindle for iPhone and iPod Touch, an e-book reader application, available in the iPhone App Store at no charge.
This is yet another major shift in platform tectonics for e-books, among so many in this young year already. And it shows that I was incorrect when I previously speculated that Amazon was imitating Apple’s iPod vertical integration strategy. (Brad Stone of the New York Times did me a kindness today in attributing this error to “a lot of people” rather than to myself.)
This means that users will be able to purchase e-books on Amazon.com and read them on a wide variety of devices — smartphones, BlackBerrys, Treos, and now iPhones and iPod Touches — pretty much anything with a decent display except the Sony Reader and a few devices being launched later this year, which will all use the Adobe Digital Editions platform.
In addition, the iPhone and iPod Touch app will afford access to the same major-publisher frontlist titles as are available on the Kindle. This is not currently true for the smartphones, PDAs, and other devices that support Amazon’s Mobipocket Reader.
The boundaries between e-book platforms are now blurrier than ever. Amazon’s intent is clearly to get retail traffic — which it can use for all sorts of beneficial purposes — and revenue from e-book royalties.
As for Adobe, it will be able to serve up frontlist e-book content for iPhones once Lexcycle completes its port of Digital Editions to the Stanza e-book reader for iPhones, which is expected soon. At that point, publishers will determine — through their licensing deals with Amazon and other e-book retailers — whether the e-book market will go to Amazon the way digital music has gone to Apple, or whether Adobe can provide meaningful competition.
And speaking of the Kindle: Amazon is now making the Kindle’s “experimental” read-aloud (speech synthesis) feature publisher-configurable rather than always on. Amazon took this action out of pressure from the Author’s Guild, which has been concerned that speech synthesis features of e-book readers would enable publishers to undercut the audiobook market and thus cheat authors out of royalties.
On the one hand, most other e-book platforms with speech synthesis enable publishers to decide whether to turn read-aloud on or not. But on the other hand, this move just goes to show the power of trade associations.