Amazon versus Apple: the complicated politics of ebooks

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


The convoluted interface is due to a stand-off between Apple and Amazon. When Steve Jobs was still alive, the companies competed to control ebook pricing, which led to an antitrust lawsuit between Apple and the US. Though Apple lost, it now requires vendors to fork over a 30% cut of in-app purchases of digital products like books and music. But Amazon already has to split its ebook sales with authors and book publishers, and the cost appears prohibitive to the e-retailer.

Amazon has tried awkward solution after awkward solution to circumnavigate app store restrictions. In 2013, Kindle let users search for any book, not just the ones in their own libraries, for the first time, adding free samples and a link at the end that would let the reader email herself a link to buy the book. (This function has since been removed.) Currently the app store policies stipulate that app developers can’t “directly or indirectly” discourage users from making in-app purchases. Presumably that’s why in 2011 a prominently placed “Kindle Store” button was removed from the app.

Apple is more lenient on letting people buy subscriptions, so if you’re a Prime member or if you subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, you can download books from those services just fine within the app. But currently there appears to be no direct link from anywhere within the Kindle app for iPhone to a place where you can actually buy an ebook.

For the time being, it seems, Amazon is stymied.

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