A contest of e-reading strategies

Alan Wallace
| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 9:23 p.m.

The Christmas-season battle for e-book lovers' new-device dollars continues to shape up, with Apple scheduling a media event for Tuesday — when it's expected not only to unveil the much-rumored “mini” iPad, but to emphasize its e-reader functionality — and a comment from the head of Amazon highlighting how different its e-reader/tablet strategy is from Apple's.

Even before Tuesday's event was set, there were indications Apple would play up the e-reading angle strongly in introducing the smaller, lighter, thinner iPad. Citing “multiple sources,” Matthew Panzarino of website The Next Web reported the event “will have a strong focus on iBooks,” Apple's e-reader content app.

The “mini” should make Apple an even more formidable competitor to Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD models in the tablet computer market. Emphasizing its e-reading virtues also will make the “mini” a stronger rival to Amazon's new back-to-basics Kindle Paperwhite in the e-reader market, despite the “mini” almost certainly costing significantly more.

Charging a premium is nothing new for Apple, of course. But combining that practice with targeting the e-reader market reflects a fundamental difference in business strategy between Apple and Amazon.

For Amazon, it's about content, not devices: CEO Jeff Bezos recently told the BBC that Amazon sells both the Fire HD and Paperwhite at cost.

That comment prompted Forbes' Kelly Clay to write that while Apple “makes a profit on every ... iPad, Amazon clearly just wants to provide a medium to consumers that can help deliver Amazon's online content — such as books and video — which have much higher profit margins.” Clay called Amazon's approach “a strategic move in both customer acquisition and retention.”

Amazon's strategy seems to work: Bezos also told the BBC that “people who buy a Kindle read four times as much as they did before they bought the Kindle.”

E-book lovers should welcome all these new devices and both Apple's and Amazon's approaches. They're well-served by a market that offers those options.

New book options of interest, whether in print or electronic versions:

• “The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis: The Secret White House Tapes” (W.W. Norton & Co.) by David G. Coleman — The author, a University of Virginia history professor who directs its Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program, uses new material from those secret tapes to show that Nikita Khrushchev's agreement to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba didn't really end the crisis 50 years ago. With a midterm election at hand, President Kennedy still had to get Soviet missiles, nuclear bombers and troops out of Cuba — without prompting renewed Soviet belligerence.

• “Here Come the Black Helicopters!: UN Global Governance and the Loss of Freedom” (Broadside Books) by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann — A best-selling husband-and-wife authorial team sounds the alarm regarding America's national sovereignty and Americans' freedom in the face of “globalists and socialists at the United Nations, and in the United States itself,” according to the publisher. The authors warn against unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who would end democratic institutions, punish those who prosper, redistribute wealth on a global scale and control the Internet, the seas and even outer space.

• “Cato Supreme Court Review, 2011-2012” (Cato Institute), edited by Ilya Shapiro — With the U.S. Supreme Court's new term under way, this 11th installment in an annual series offers a detailed look back at the prior term and a preview of the current one. The momentous ObamaCare decision and other rulings, including those on Arizona's immigration law and warrantless GPS tracking, are reviewed in a volume geared for general readers, not constitutional lawyers. Cato bills it as the only “scholarly journal” that critiques the Supreme Court “from a Madisonian perspective grounded in the nation's first principles, liberty and limited government.”

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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