Apple eyes book prize sponsorship, marks ebooks as next tech battleground

Ebooker prize

Apple Prize for Fiction marks ebooks as the next big tech battleground

In a most un-Apple-like move, Apple is reportedly bidding to be the next sponsor of the (formerly) Orange Prize for Fiction.

The rumour comes by way of the Sunday Telegraph which reports that Apple has been in talks with the organisers.

At least 18 companies have expressed interest in sponsoring the prize, according to co-founder Kate Mosse, but the Telegraph's sources say that Apple's discussions are "the most advanced".

Far from the tree

At first this rumour may seem surprising. Forward-looking and notoriously marketing-averse tech behemoth Apple sponsoring something as teeny and archaic as books? Surely not.

But if Apple's plan is to make the iPad to books what the iPod was to music then it's not such a surprise. Apple has music pretty much sewn-up with iTunes dominating digital sales and major retailers like Amazon scrabbling to catch up, undercutting MP3 prices and the like.

But when it comes to ebooks, the tables are turned: Amazon started life as an online bookseller and got its Kindle out the door before the iPad was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye.

So Amazon has the heritage and the headstart and the Kindle in its various guises is the ebook reader to beat. And now that the Amazon Kindle Fire exists and there's ever-increasing talk of an iPad Mini – oh it is on.

There's a serious dearth of reliable stats about ebook sales and, given that the iPad has myriad different uses, it's nigh on impossible to tell how well Apple's tablet is really doing as an ebook reader, let alone how iBooks is doing v. the Kindle iOS app.

But you don't even need to know about the company getting caught up in ebook price-fixing court cases, to realise that Apple's hungry for the 30 per cent it makes on every book it sells - relatively big ticket items compared to 79p songs and £1.29 apps – and it's not going to let Amazon run away with the market without a fight.

Number crunch

So even if iBooks is doing well (and we can't prove that it is or isn't either way), it's not doing well enough. Apple wants to be synonymous with ebooks and the iBookstore didn't exactly get off to a flying start when it was launched in 2010.

Paid Content crunched the numbers and worked out that Apple's crowing about 1.5 million book downloads in the first six months of business actually equated to an average of roughly 1.5 book downloads per device, with no indication of how many of those were actually paid for.

Backing up that hypothesis is the fact that Apple has already had to dip its toe in unfamiliar waters to push the iBookstore. It maintained a presence at the BookExpo America last year which, considering it generally avoids all trade shows like the plague, is a pretty big deal.

And sponsoring one of the UK's major fiction prizes? They might as well tack up a sign at 1 Infinite Loop saying, "We sell books" – or "Suck it, Amazon".

The question is how will the Kindle-maker react. Will we see the Prix Gonkindle or the Amazon Pulitzer? Or will Amazon just continue to push best-selling Kindle books as the big winners in the competition of life?

Either way, the humble ebook looks set to be the weapon of choice in the tech giants' next big fight. Game on.