Can Apple Make iBooks Match for Books?

TechCrunch is reporting that an upcoming Apple event, to be held in January, will focus on ebooks, and the company’s iBooks app. My first thought is that there’s not much they can do with iBooks to warrant a media event, with a presentation and announcement, but then I thought a bit more. What if Apple were going to unveil iBooks Match?

You’re probably familiar with iTunes Match. For $25, you can have iTunes match your music library, making your music available in the “cloud,” either matching tracks with music from the iTunes Store, or uploading those tracks that are not available in the latter. Why not do something similar with iBooks? I have literally thousands of dead-tree books, and some of them are big and unwieldy, and I would love to be able to read them on my iPad, rather than on paper. (In fact, I’ve been wanting to read Shelby Foote’s Civil War Trilogy for some time, but the books are humongous.)

iBooks Match could work like this. Using the camera built in to all recent and current Macs – or even iOS devices – the iBooks program either grabs a picture of the cover, or scans the bar code (the latter would be much easier, and this technology exists already, in the Delicious Library catalog software). It then searches the iTunes Store’s books section to find matches, and, if any are found, adds them to your library.

Of course, this is certainly unlikely, as book publishers are even more reticent to offer any such type of service than the record labels were to offer iTunes Match (though they did accept Apple’s offer, which I find surprising). But allowing users to transfer their print libraries to digital would be a big leap forward for ebooks in general, as most serious readers would have, instead of a handful of ebooks, hundreds of them, if not more.

The second possibility I see is a sort of paid lending library system. Personally, as agreeable as I find reading on my iPad, I don’t buy many ebooks, because the price, when compared to print books, is either very close, or more expensive. And this for books that I’ll read once, and never be able to do anything with (sell used, loan or give away). A paid lending library that gives you access to a certain number of books per month, for example, would solve this problem, and since you don’t actually “own” ebooks, wouldn’t change much for users. It would also guarantee a bigger revenue stream for publishers. (Amazon has free ebook loans for members of Amazon Prime, which offers free shipping, streaming videos, and a loan of one book per month. So why can’t Apple do better?)

No matter what, I find it interesting that ebooks are important enough to warrant an Apple event. Of course, this could also be a way of presenting a new iPad 3 with a retina display. While reading on the current iPad is acceptable, a retina display would make it much more comfortable.