So No Digital Books From Apple After All?

August 11, 2009

I should have known it was too good to be true, Apple acting as if it was entering digital books.

The “Cocktail” project that led me to believe Apple was creating a new digital book format turns out to be, diplomatically speaking, a defensive move by Apple to counter a competing strategy by four big music labels, a file format called CMX.

Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI to launch CMX album download format

It is understood that the record labels approached Apple, maker of the iPod, about 18 months ago with the plan to revitalise album downloads by bundling together extra features in a single download.

Industry insiders say that their project, with the working title CMX, was rebuffed by Apple. The technology giant is now understood to be working on its own format, codenamed Cocktail, which it hopes to launch within two months.

One senior record label insider said: “Apple at first told us that they were not interested, but now they have decided to do their own, in case ours catches on.”

Emphasis added by me.

Sadly, this behavior seems to be in Apple’s DNA. Direct your attention to The god of iPod

Later, Robbin told C&G about his idea to develop better MP3 player software. The result was SoundJam MP. The Apple engineering staff jumped in to help C&G with advice.

“They really liked what we were doing; it really showed off the Mac’s math co-processor,” Kunysz says. SoundJam quickly grabbed 90 per cent market share, pouring revenue into C&G’s coffers.

In a short time the three-man company grew to a staff of about 30, taking in as much as $US5.5 million annually, with the lion’s share coming from SoundJam.

And then one day, Kunysz says, “Apple comes to us like an 800-pound gorilla”. The message, he says, was: “Sell the rights or we’ll develop a competitive product and put you out of business.”

Emphasis added by me.

Right there is the dark history of the iTunes software.

So where does this leave us?

1) Apple creating a new format called “Cocktail.”

2) Could “Cocktail” be part of a larger digital book strategy?

3) Could Apple have seen CMX, already had digital books in mind, and decided that this was the ideal entry strategy?

4) Could Apple have rejected CMX as being too limited in format, unable to accommodate other things, less graceful than Apple’s fabled simplicity?

We won’t know until we see “Cocktail” and Apple talks about how it was developed and if it’s open at all to independent music publishers.

And whether “Cocktail” is in fact a framework for actual digital books.