Digital World: Israel, again, not invited to the i-Party

Companies need all the business they can get – and Israel is a content consumer ripe for the plucking.

By DAVID SHAMAH
February 2, 2010 06:22
Apple's iPad.

iPad Apple tech 311. (photo credit: AP)

Here comes another device that Israelis are going to have to use “connections” – like an American credit card – to make use of. Apple’s new iPad will be joining the ranks of the iPod, iPhone, Kindle, and who knows how many more devices, that Israelis will not be able to use properly, or legally.

The iPad, whatever one may think of it based on the short presentation offered by Steve Jobs last week (see it at http://tinyurl.com/ye6mter) is destined to be a game-changer. Personally, I wasn’t so wowed by it (http://tinyurl.com/y8ddrg3) – it seems a bit too wide, and it looks like it would be too easy to scratch – but Apple hasn’t come out with a bomb for years (the last one was the Newton, depending on whom you ask), so you can be sure that if they’ve decided to release this now, it’s going to sell like hotcakes. It will be available in the US in a matter of weeks, and, said Jobs, available internationally by May or June.

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The iPad’s charm is that it will combine all personal entertainment into one, easy to use device; instead of various iPods for music and video use, and a Kindle for book-reading, and a laptop or iPhone for surfing the web or playing with apps, you get it all in one super iPad package (I suspect that future editions will sport a cellphone as well, after Apple milks whatever it can out of the iPhone). Users of the iPad will have access to movies, books, TV shows, music, and any other downloadable content you can imagine, courtesy of Apple, and whatever deals they work out with the content suppliers.

But once again, Israel will be left behind. Months (years) later, absolutely no progress has been made on working out content deals with the people who hold the music and movie rights in this country; the “sole importers” are clearly holding out for a bigger cut, and are holding their contracts over the heads of the foreign content providers, threatening to sue, sue, and sue some more, if they dare to try and do a digital runaround with books, music, or video (http://tinyurl.com/y94pwwa). It reminds me of the situation here years ago, when an “upstart” book chain started importing English books from wholesalers in the US, selling them at far lower costs than the official importer was selling them for. Some interested party put a stop to that quite quickly, I assure you.

Israel isn’t the only country left out of the i-party; China doesn’t have a true iTunes store, and Amazon isn’t shipping Kindles there. The reason, it appears, is the (quite justified) fear that whatever is sent over to China will be knocked off within minutes, thus destroying any hope to sell legal content there (and you know they are just salivating at the thought of a billion Chinese buying books from the Apple Bookstore). But Israelis, who are not known for knocking things off and are more than happy to pay double for the same stuff others get at regular prices, won’t be able to access any of the i-content any time soon.

Of course, all this can be solved if you are the
possessor of a US-issued credit card, with a billing address in the United States. Then, Apple and Amazon trust you with their digital content. Actually, I’m being unfair to Amazon, which will gladly accept your Israeli credit card if it allows international use (the various gold or business credit cards) for almost anything they sell, including physical music discs and books. But not for the digital stuff.

And we haven’t even mentioned the issue of the iPad’s 3G connection, which will also not be solved overnight, if the iPhone saga offers any indication – it took quite a while for Israel’s Apple rep, iDigital, to work out a deal with the Israeli cellphone companies. The company doesn’t expect to get the iPad anytime soon, either – in an e-mail iDigital sent out in the midst of the hoopla of the product announcement, the company said that “Regarding [the iPad’s] reaching Israel, it is still too early to determine [when, how and if that will happen]. We are acting in accordance with Apple policy, but we are working with the world [Apple] organization in regards to localization.”

As if localization were the only problem! I know many of the people reading this in Israel do have access to an American credit card, as do the people who live in the US who are reading this online, so it may not seem like such a big deal. But it is – not because of the content itself, which is available at a thousand and one torrent download sites, but because this is a clear example of how legal obfuscation by “old tech” companies is preventing progress of “new tech.”

I know that sounds ironic coming from someone who writes for a newspaper – what with the internet cutting into newspaper profits and all – but as we have seen over and over in the past few decades, artificially damming up the flow of progress only makes things worse for the defenders of old technology – and the businesses that think quickly and adjust to the situation are the ones that survive, and thrive (American talk radio, which is bigger than rock n’ roll ever was on AM, is a good example).

Now that there’s competition to the Kindle, the Amazon people may be looking to expand their base; the iPad promises to be a formidable foe. Perhaps that will be an incentive for Amazon to lean a little harder on the content suppliers to work out a deal with the local importers. I know Israel is a small market (but there have got to be more English readers in Israel than in Mongolia, where you can buy Amazon books!), but during times of trying competition, companies need all the business they can get – and Israel is a content consumer ripe for the plucking.


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