Today, author Sharon Lee wrote on Facebook that Apple has rejected some of the ebooks that she and her husband Steve Miller publish through their small press, Pinbeam Books. These books, Lee writes, commit the cardinal sin of mentioning Amazon.com, which seems to be verboten for ebooks published via the Apple Books Store. She adds:
As Pinbeam Books refuses to buy into the fantasy that mentioning a competitor means that one automatically loses sales to said competitor, we will not be “correcting” these titles, or any future titles that Apple, in its megalomania, may find offensive to it.
Pinbeam Books apologizes for the inconvenience, and suggests that there are other perfectly good retail outlets where their ebooks may be purchased.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time this has happened. Back in 2012, I reported that Holly Lisle had materials for a writing course she was putting together rejected for similar reasons, though those materials initially included active links to Amazon content. However, Lee and Miller’s works never had any such active links.
In fact, checking one of the titles in question, Halfling Moon, the only mention I see of Amazon at all is from the about-the-authors section at the end, which states that one of their books “hit Amazon.com genre bestseller lists.” This does seem like a trivial reason to reject a listing, which leads me to suspect an automatic algorithm somewhere was to blame rather than an actual live person. I can certainly sympathize with Lee and Miller’s decision to forego Apple rather than modify the book to meet Apple’s requirements—especially since Sharon Lee notes in a comment that 85% of their sales revenue comes through Amazon, Baen is their next biggest source, and “We earn nickels if that from Apple.”
A few days after the Holly Lisle story broke in 2012, Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader reported that Apple subsequently backed down where that one particular ebook was concerned, perhaps stung by all the negative publicity surrounding it. But Apple didn’t change its policies overall, and had been rejecting ebooks mentioning “Amazon” or “Kindle” for quite some time even then. Clearly, it’s still doing it now.
Apple has long played by its own rules when it comes to how it does ebooks. It only offers them via its own devices, and it insists on a 30% cut of any revenue from in-app purchases made on its platforms—which means Apple is the only one who can afford to sell ebooks directly in its own iOS e-reader app. This insistence that competitors not even be mentioned seems right in line with these other restrictions—and it’s also not exactly surprising for a company that would only enter the ebook market in the first place if it could nobble the competition with agency pricing beforehand.
But then, it’s not as if Apple is even particularly relevant to ebooks anymore. Some of the fans commenting on Sharon Lee’s post were surprised the company even does them at all. That’s quite a comedown for the iBooks program that was originally touted as Steve Jobs’s “Kindle killer.”