The Music Industry’s Cautionary iTunes Tale Resonates with Publishers–And Apple

Look who has learned one of the most important lessons of the music industry’s love-hate relationship with iTunes: Apple.

The music labels love iTunes because it gave them a new revenue stream while CD sales withered away. And the music labels hate iTunes because it helped CD sales wither away by giving consumers the chance to replace $15 discs with $1 songs.

But now, as Apple prepares to launch e-book sales along with its new tablet, the company seems to be taking a different tack. It’s letting book publishers push their digital pricing up instead of down.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple (AAPL) was still haggling with publishers Tuesday night, but says the gist of Apple’s offer is this: Publishers can set their e-book prices at $12.99 or $14.99, well above the $9.99-or-less price point Amazon (AMZN) is pushing.

Apple’s terms would actually generate less money per sale for publishers than Amazon currently does, but publishers are so worried about digital cannibalization that they seem willing to take a hit in order to protect their paper-and-ink products. WSJ:

In adopting the Apple model, the balance of power would shift at least partly back to publishers, which regain control of pricing. In setting higher prices, they could provide a level playing field for all e-book retailers. The potential for publishers is that the device may generate greater volume for e-book sales.

But note that Apple isn’t offering publishers complete control of their pricing as it does with developers on its App Store. And while Apple is giving publishers more latitude, it is being more aggressive than ever with the TV business, reportedly by pushing the networks to cut prices for their shows.

The other big caveat is that if Apple does want to sell e-books for 30 percent to 50 percent more than Amazon, those e-books are going to have to be pretty special. Simply adding a dash of color and some graphics won’t cut it–these things will really need to be “enhanced” to justify the premium. Figuring out how to do that while keeping margins intact is a whole other story.

Plenty of time to hear about that later, though. For now, let’s see what Steve Jobs has to show us today.

Digital Daily’s John Paczkowski will be reporting live from the Yerba Buena Center starting at 1 pm ET; head over to his liveblog to catch the action in real time.

Much Better! Bill Gates Visits “The Daily Show,” Version 2.0.

Bill Gates dropped by “The Daily Show” last night to chat up Jon Stewart. He did pretty well!

And the Microsoft (MSFT) founder did much, much better than on his first visit to the show in January 2007–a strained conversation capped off by Gates’s abrupt/awkward departure from the set.

This makes plenty of sense: Last time, Gates was promoting Windows Vista, a task that would make anyone nervous.

This time out, Gates was talking about his foundation work, along with some esoterica like his recent foray into Twitter. He also handled Stewart’s obligatory iPhone barb fairly well.

Here are last night’s seven minutes, followed by the last half of Gates’s first attempt. If you watch the latter, make sure to catch the last couple seconds.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Gates Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Dude Web Site Publisher Breaks Into Games (Heh heh. Heh heh.)

For the past several years, Keith Richman has run a Web publishing company that specializes in video and stuff for dudes. Which means he ought to be struggling and/or out of business by now–both sectors have had way too many competitors chasing not nearly enough ad dollars.

Not so, says Richman. He won’t divulge numbers, but says his Break Media has seen revenue climb 40 percent in the last year and is sort-of profitable (sort-of technical term: “Ebitda profitable”) to boot.

Break.com and its associated sites (CagePotato.com, HolyTaco, etc.) have plenty of competition from the likes of College Humor and Heavy et al–not to mention Google’s (GOOG) YouTube and Hulu–but they’re holding up quite nicely: ComScore (SCOR) pegs their audience at six million monthly uniques. Just as important: Minority owner Lionsgate Entertainment (LGF), which plunked down $21 million for a 40 percent stake in the company in 2007, doesn’t seem to be demanding a payout anytime soon.

Richman is now tackling another market that already has way too many competitors: Social games, dominated by the likes of Zynga, Electronics Arts (ERTS), and Playfish, etc.

No matter. Richman has hired a staff of 13 to kick off his games effort–you can get a taste of what he’s up to here–and says he’ll have a staff of 30 by March (most of them will be in China). Richman’s idea is simple: These games are hot now, but they’re only going to become bigger, so best to jump in while you still can.

Plus, you can iterate through this stuff pretty quickly–Richman’s team put together a supercrude and pretty popular “Tiger Woods Wife Outrun” game within three days of Woods’s car crash last fall–so the sooner you start, the more you can learn.

We talked about all of this in a brief chat last week in New York:


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