Apple price-fixing case will helps books and ebooks and readers in ways people don’t realize yet

In the wake of Apple being found guilty of conspiring with Publishers to fix ebook prices, people are reacting in very emotion-driven ways.

How could the Judge find Apple guilty? How could the Judge make things easier for Amazon? What will save us from Amazon now? Does this really help customers?

People are reacting so strongly that this story is the #1 story on both Techmeme and Mediagazer.

It’s interesting to see most people miss the point completely –

  1. Apple eBook Ruling doesn’t do much for consumers.
  2. For Consumers, not much changes. For Apple, a lot could.
  3. Forbes find it hard to believe Apple is wrong – Did Apple conspire to raise prices?
  4. David Streitfeld at NY Times – E-Book Ruling gives Amazon an Advantage.

Let’s look at what this ruling REALLY does.


This court verdict, especially if upheld on appeal, establishes precedent.

  1. Any group of powerful companies, when trying similar things in future, will know that they are going to get slapped. Particularly true in books and ebooks and Publishing.
  2. Precedent that doing something wrong will probably get you punished.
  3. Precedent that any company (group of companies) that causes prices to go up 30% or more for consumers, illegally, will get brought to justice.
  4. Precedent that even a media darling company like Apple can’t bypass Justice. If you read some of the Press’ articles it’s just disappointing to see them use weak strategy like ‘Amazon shouted and screamed in meetings’ to try and get Apple off the hook. Precedent that all the media could be your dumb brainwashed little lapdogs and you’ll still get brought to justice. This is a very big deal.
  5. Precedent that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

You can paint any picture you like. The bottom-line is that Apple and Publishers introduced the Agency Model and caused tens of millions of readers to either pay higher prices or wait for 6 to 12 months. That’s just not the right thing to do. What kind of parent raises their kids to do things like that? Seriously – would you raise your kids to exploit other people in that way? To take away a book they were dying to read for 6 to 12 months, unless they paid an exorbitant price for it?

Readers are the people who pay for EVERYTHING. To mistreat them like this is just wrong.

Note: Most companies, including Amazon, have their own little ‘we’re too big for our breeches’ episodes. That’s why it’s important to show that no company, no matter how big and powerful, can get away with doing wrong things.

Creative Destruction and Ensuring Progress

What Apple and Publishers were trying to do, and what now Amazon is trying to do, is stop the Creative Destruction that is happening in Publishing.

It’s inevitable. The existing gatekeepers will fall. Then the new gatekeepers, so happy to seize the opportunity that they don’t see the barbarians at the gate, will fall.

If we let Apple and Publishers get away with it, then it makes Amazon and the new gatekeepers feel they can get away with it too. Now, they know they might get caught. They will still try. However, we have PRECEDENT and we have punishments.

The second great revolution in publishing is not going to end with one gatekeeper replacing another. It’s going to end when gatekeepers are replaced by servants. Servants who serve authors and readers instead of lording over them.

The Court’s decision ensures that some of the obstacles slowing down the much-needed creative destruction are struck down. More importantly, it ensures that the people busy setting up new obstacles think ten times before doing evil.

Room for New Players

Who’s going to take books and publishing forward?

  1. Publishers and Apple, who want to pretend we’re in the paperbook world.
  2. Amazon, who wants to pretend that we’re in the paperbook world with Publishers replaced by Amazon.
  3. Readers and Authors.
  4. New Players that serve Readers and Authors.

Only 3 and 4 are actually interested in progress.

The dream situation for Publishers is for eBooks to suddenly stop growing or die out. The dream situation for Amazon is for eBooks to replace books but within Amazon’s closed ecosystem.

Readers, Authors, New players – they all want a new system. They will get it.

Why? Because attempts by the existing gatekeepers and attempts by the self-anointed rising gatekeepers, to impede progress –

A) Will only delay the inevitable.

B) Will lead to court decisions like this one, and give the guilty parties the double slap of public shaming and destruction of their strategy.

The number and types of moats that can be built to protect the existing castles and fortifications just got reduced drastically.

Consumer Focus

What won the case?

The fact that the HARD FACTS showed that prices went up due to Apple’s efforts. That this was bad for consumers.

At the very least, this ensures that future meddlers and scum, who try similar tactics, will try to minimize damage to customers when they try to corner the market.

That can only be good for readers. If all the players involved are painfully aware that any exploitation or abuse of readers/customers will lead to eventual justice.

Better shot for Indie Authors

If companies had the option to just make indie authors disappear, they would.

Now, any attempts to hinder/hide/handicap indie authors will be rethought. Because if these methods get found out, and it can be shown that it led to higher book prices for readers, then it’s the exact same mess that Apple got into.

You can bet a lot of emails are getting deleted at various eBook platform companies regarding handicaps and boosts and pricing methodologies that are not pro-customer.

No company will want trouble of the sort Apple has gotten into. At best, they will stop their meddling with indie author rankings. At worst, they will use even more subtle, hard to track methods – these, in turn, will perhaps be less effective.

This ruling HURTS Amazon, not helps it

Why could Apple and Publishers pull off the Agency Model? Because they had the power. This is the KEY thing everyone is missing. Without power you can’t do much abuse.

What company has the most power now? Amazon.

So, the company most likely to abuse power is Amazon, not anyone else.

If the Court and the Judge clearly indicate that they will not stand for abuse of power that hurts consumers, then Amazon is going to be wary. What damage can Apple do in books now? Not very much. Amazon, on the other hand can cause lots of problems. This ruling serves as a strong warning to them to not abuse their power too much.

This ruling is a warning to Tech Companies that try to prostitute users and their rights

You could bet $1 million dollars that in dozens, if not hundreds, of companies’ boardrooms, this ruling is being discussed and has served as a warning.

If you do things that hurt consumers’ best interests, then you might be brought to justice. All these companies know that they aren’t the media’s darlings, or America’s Favorite Tech Company that makes everything in China, or the company that made thousands of people rich via its stock (well, up to $700 it did).

If Apple can get hammered, then so can they.

In Summary – It’s about the Future of Books

This isn’t about allegiance to a company, wariness of another company, or about looking out for your own selfish best interests.

It’s about what THE RIGHT THING TO DO is.

What’s the right thing for readers? What’s the right thing for authors? What’s the right thing for the future of books?

District Judge Denise Cote has ruled in favor of doing the RIGHT thing for Readers and Authors. Every few years, there’ll be a company that has power in books, and tries to exploit readers and/or authors for its own selfish interests. It’s up to readers and authors and the DOJ and the Judicial system (which might be our only hope) to fight against this. Only the powerful can prevent abuse of power. Only readers and authors and the judicial system can protect the future of books and reading and readers and authors.

Thoughts on Apple and iOS 7

Please Note: This isn’t meant for Apple or even for Apple people – kindly skip it if you’re either. It’s just an analysis meant for people who write books or make software or make any product at all that’s used by every day users. Think of it more as ‘Lessons from a Misstep by Someone Else’. Lessons which will hopefully help you avoid similar missteps yourself.

Software and Hardware needs to be CONGRUENT and Built for Users

A software and hardware team shipping products is a very interesting creature.

You have a bunch of people who are very, very specialized in their areas. At the same time, they are very detached from the reality of every day users. On top of that, they are completely unaware of the fact that they are detached from the reality of the everyday user.

This is absolutely critical – Each one of these ‘very specialized, very good, very detached from every day reality’ people are completely unaware that they don’t know what is best for users. They are beautiful in their skills and who they are. However, they do not represent what is best for users – they don’t even know what’s best for users.

This creates the need for the ‘great communicator’ and ‘vision creator’. A person who has three very different and important roles –

  1. Communicate between EVERYONE on the team and UNDERSTAND what they are saying and make sense of it. This is far tougher than you might imagine. A graphic designer talks in language and world views completely different from a software programmer. It’s the same for almost every other pairing on the team – these people don’t really exist in the same world. Anyone who’s worked in a multi-functional team in any area can relate to this. It’s like putting together an international criminal lawyer and a neurosurgeon at dinner – half the time they don’t understand what the other person says or means.
  2. Communicate the every day user’s needs and desires to all of these people and CONVINCE them that the every day user’s needs are the ONLY thing that matters. It’s a very uncommon bit of common sense – the understanding that the product is FOR THE USER and that the User is paying the money.
  3. Lead the whole team by setting a vision for where the product and software and hardware should go. What it should be and what it should do. Creates a vision that people can get behind. A big part of leadership is keeping everything in equilibrium – you can’t let the hardware team or the software team or the business team or any other person or team dominate and warp the product towards their world view of what’s important.

If you get the decisions being made by someone who is locked into any of the specific specialist world views – then you get a product that is warped towards a particular specialization and not optimal for the user.

That’s exactly what’s happening in iOS 7. You can wait until you’ve used it yourself. Points 2 and 3 above are missing.

Firstly, someone forgot that users are not designers. They need perceived affordances (clues and cues) and visual cues to understand where to click and what to click. That’s deteriorated considerably. It’s just not good for users.

Secondly, there was no one who kept things in equilibrium. There was no one who championed ‘We should ONLY do what’s BEST FOR USERS’. There was no one to keep things in balance. That leads to a loss of congruence.

When the biggest Apple fanboys are calling the design confusing then there is a big problem. Keep in mind that a lot of the people who don’t like the design are Apple people. These are people who would not have an issue unless there was a very REAL problem. There is. This is a very big warning sign for Apple.

Simplicity leads to a Lack of Opportunity to Add Details + Simplicity is Boring

What made iOS visually very pretty was the juxtaposition of very simple and beautiful hardware against detailed, rich, visual design. Both parts were critical. Black needs White to have Meaning.

People are knocking skeuomorphism. However, look around you – People like skeuomorphism in their day-to-day lives.

For every person who has a very minimalistically decorated house or car or office, there are 100 people who have and love REAL and COMPLEXLY decorated surroundings. For every person who likes to dress in the same outfit every single day, there are 100 people who like to mix and match and add little flourishes and details.

Going to simplicity in the Operating System design causes three problems –

  1. Very simple, minimalistic hardware with very simple, minimalistic software = Simplicity overload. It’s not beautiful. It’s just boring. If you have a very tasteful simple outfit and then wear a daring colorful scarf – that’s beautiful. Much more beautiful than an outfit that has no life or verve anywhere (like the Men’s Wearhouse fashion shows that Apple Presentations have turned into). Variety and Contrast are the spice of life.
  2. Simplicity reduces your opportunities to show your attention to detail and your level of skill. Any, and I do mean any, work can be made more beautiful by adding more detail. No one would know what the Sistine Chapel was if it had a single flower painted on it. Same for the Taj Mahal and for countless other things we consider beautiful and timeless. You have to have detail to give the creators the opportunity to create something special. The more details you can add, the more you can convey. Even things that you would consider ‘simple’ have an immense amount of detail – in those cases, all the work goes into creating the illusion of simplicity in what is a complex intricate design.
  3. You lose the opportunity to make things intuitive and easy for users. What’s the ultimate simplicity – Make a settings button that is just three dots or just three lines. Google does this sort of nonsense. It’s incredibly hard to recognize that three dots indicate a Settings button. What do smart people do? Make a rich, vibrant gear icon – something that’s already understood to be an identifier for the settings button. The rich and vibrant part is key. The more you make it look like a real life gear, the faster people understand it’s a gear. People are NOT looking to see how abstract and designer-hip and hard-to-comprehend you can make that gear design. They want something that’s QUICK and EASY to understand and that clearly conveys you can PRESS it to get results.

The third point is very key. As Jakob Nielsen would say – Users are used to certain conventions and those should not be broken unless you have a very good reason. Too much simplicity means you break all manner of conventions.

Skeuomorphism works because it makes people COMFORTABLE. The cool, hip designers think that we have computers now and Calendars should not look anything like the Calendars of old.

Well, unfortunately for them, 90% of users are more comfortable if digital calendars look similar to, and have the same perceived affordances (clues, cues, visual cues about what to press and where to write), that wall calendars and desk calendars had.

Why? Because you just want a calendar that works like it’s supposed to. You do not want to re-learn how to use a calendar.

The second point, attention to detail, is critical. Guess which two companies avoid attention to detail and go for minimalism – Microsoft and Google. That’s why Android and Windows 8 are simple and elegant (only Windows 8, not Android) and completely devoid of beauty.

They know they can’t make super-beautiful design so they avoid design. They stick to their core competency (I could be evil and say it’s blandness, but let’s call it utility).

Apple is making a big mistake by going away from what it does really well – beautiful, rich, nuanced design.

Simplicity is easy and a trap in design and should be avoided unless there’s a very, very good reason for it. We aren’t talking about an inherently complex field like Quantum Physics or Rocket Science where making things simple and easy to understand is a good goal. We’re talking about software design. Making things beautiful and usable and easy to understand and a pleasure to use is the aim. Not simplicity for simplicity’s sake.

No one ever felt pleasure by touching an abstract button that doesn’t make any sense and where it’s hard to even tell it’s a button. They just felt confusion and an infinite and infinitesimal despair as an opportunity to feel good was stolen away.

The first point is the most interesting. Hardware simplicity doesn’t work well with software simplicity. It’s about variety and contrast and the juxtaposition and the two opposite elements lending meaning to each other. Night has no meaning without Day.

Simple hardware with simple software is just boring and devoid of meaning and contrast. You can go back and check for yourself – Most of the designs that we find beautiful have a rich contrast. Most of the art and even most of the writing we find beautiful have a rich contrast.

Life is too short – avoid Boring.

Apple’s iOS 7 design is Disappointing and it’s Not Beautiful

We already have a world being sullied by what Google likes to call ‘design’ and its ugly artificial icons. We have Microsoft under the delusion that people want just typography and nothing else in design. We have Amazon skinning Android and doing puzzling things like choosing Orange as a key color (Yes, it’s a ‘Fire’ – we get it. That still doesn’t make it OK to use Orange as a main color).

Apple and a few companies like Square and Tumblr were sticking with good design. However, now Apple has fallen under a lot of misconceptions about what is best for users and what is good design.

No matter how much you dislike or like Apple, you have to feel for it. It has lost its beauty and attention to detail and those might have been its main heritable fitnesses.

You can check out this thread at Quora asking whether the iOS 7 design is an improvement?

No, forget it being an improvement. The iOS 7 design isn’t even beautiful. When’s the last time you could question that?

ZDNet thinks It’s an Inflection Point for Apple. The Inflection Point was when the person who took responsibility for ‘Putting the User First and forgetting everything else’ died. That happened a long time ago. It seems that the Inflection Point is now because it’s only now that we are seeing the result of years and years of people forgetting that the devices and the software and the hardware and the design are FOR USERS. Forstall, that was perhaps the only other guy who got it. Too bad he lost out in the politics and internal wars at Apple – Perhaps because the person fighting for the End User hardly ever wins any popularity contests.

Devices & People & Feelings

Zynga is closing down some of its games today. One of the games is Petville – where you have virtual pets you take care of and buy things for. The comments from people whose ‘virtual’ pets are being killed off are a reminder that people and people’s feelings are far more important than software and hardware.

Technology only holds value/meaning if it creates an impact in people’s lives. If it makes people FEEL things.

We tend to forget that devices and technology are meaningless in themselves. It is how devices affect people and the feelings they create that give them meaning.

Would a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there was no one to hear it?

It (the notion that devices in themselves are nothing) might sound like heresy to people working in technology who think the software they make, the devices they manufacture, the cars they build, and the planes they construct are masterpieces. That it doesn’t matter how they impact people or their lives or their feelings. Just the existence of the technology is beautiful in itself.

Actually, it’s not (except to the creators). The existence of technology means nothing until it reaches people.

A hammer by itself is powerless. A hammer used to build a house that people will live in and cherish is something beautiful.

Twin Traps of Technology Fetishism and Fashion Obsession

We’ve fallen into two very interesting traps –

  1. The first trap is that technical specifications of devices have meaning. That having a quad core processor is somehow twice as good as having a two core processor – even if there is no difference in the end user experience.
  2. The second trap is that the device and its beauty is the center of the universe. That it’s not the person who gives the device meaning, but the opposite.

They are both traps. The first gleefully endorsed by the technologically savvy and the second spread by the aesthetically adept (or obsessed or addicted).

A device that has impressive specifications but doesn’t create some great value for the device owner is just a technology fetish. A device that looks beautiful but doesn’t provide great value is just a fashion accessory.

Devices are defined by how People use them

A device gains relevance when people start using it and it starts impacting their lives. When people feel something about it.

There are different things different companies go after –

  1. One device manufacturer says – Let’s put in 57 different shiny new technologies. The user will be so happy to have access to these new technologies that it doesn’t matter what using the device is actually like.
  2. A second device manufacturer says – Let’s polish and pretty up the device so that it sparkles. The user will be so busy showing off that she won’t care if some things don’t feel right.
  3. Somewhere, hidden away in the Arctic perhaps, is a device manufacturer who thinks only in terms of the core. Not the extrinsics like fashion or technology fetishism or price or addictions. Just the core – What does the device do? How does it make the user feel? How can we perfect that?

Subjugating a device’s core purpose to extrinsic things – closed ecosystems, fashion and trends, technology, business priorities. That’s just a corruption of the core ideal. All of it just gets in the way of the device doing justice to its core functionality.

People want to feel good about their devices

Yes, this is in both extrinisc and intrinsic ways. Extrinsically,

  1. People want devices that make them feel they got good value for money OR that they got the chance to show they have disposable income OR that they are most certainly not willing to waste money on expensive things.
  2. People want devices that are pretty and make them look cool and sophisticated.
  3. Some people prefer devices that make them look smart and knowledgable.
  4. Often people want devices that convey a philosophy or an idea.
  5. People want devices that have extrinisic qualities with in turn help people get extrinisic things (coolness, popularity, confidence, contentment, congruence with an idea they hold dear).

Intrinsically, however, is where it gets really interesting. People, sooner or later, run into the core uses of a device i.e.

  1. People end up using the device for what it’s meant for.
  2. This either works great and people feel satisfied and great about themselves and in control.
  3. Or it doesn’t work and people feel stupid and that they don’t control things and realize that the device made them feel bad.

This intrinsic part, in my opinion, is ten times more important than anything extrinsic.

The device must do its core function so well, and with such ease of use, that users LOVE it and Feel good about it, and about themselves. Regardless of the extrinsics.

Devices & People & Feelings

A great many people who make devices and technologies suffer from one of two fatal flaws (sometimes both) –

  1. They don’t realize (or perhaps don’t give importance to) the fact that a device or technology they are making has the power to make people feel things. That their creations can make a person’s day (and life) better or worse. Not just at the ‘getting things done’ level, but also at the ‘how I feel’ level.
  2. They can’t, or don’t want to, step into the common users’ shoes and view the device as the common user will see it. The common user will see the device as ‘providing something’. Not as a combination of a four core processor and a NFC chip and a Wireless card. For the user, the device is a living, breathing thing that the user interacts with and which affects the user’s life and emotions and ability to get things done.

So we end up with devices built for robots and non-thinking non-feeling automatons when we need devices built for human beings.

The average user is wary of technology. Simply because she has been trained that interacting with technology is usually painful and frustrating. Simply because she feels good before dealing with technology but bad afterwards.

It’s time for device makers to change that. So that people look forward to using new technologies.

Device makers think of making devices as fitting a brick into a wall. It is actually more like counting stars. It’s not about the dimensions and the fit and the numbers – it’s about the experience and the joy.