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Apple's alleged Kindle-crusher set for spring release?

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Apple's alleged Kindle-killing tablet appears to be on the runway for a spring 2010 takeoff. And in what may or may not be related news, two top-drawer US publishers are holding back ebooks of dozens of their upcoming major titles until the same time frame.

According to one analyst's "supply chain sources," mass production of Apple's long-rumored "iPad" is scheduled to ramp up in February, with release to follow in March or April. So says Yair Reiner, senior analyst for Applied Technology and Apple specialist at the Oppenheimer & Co. investment firm.

As reported by Fortune and others, Reiner's Wednesday advice to clients says that "the manufacturing cogs for the tablet are creaking into action."

Reiner's sources supplied precious few details of the impending iPad: namely that it would have a 10.1-inch LTPS LCD display, and not the OLED display that has been part of other rumormongers' mongering.

What's interesting about Reiner's ruminations are details of Apple's dealings with content publishers, which center around what he characterizes as "a very attractive proposal."

Reiner claims that Apple's proposed deal includes a 30/70 revenue split - that's 30 per cent for Apple - which is far more generous than the 50/50 split that he says is Amazon's typical deal with non-exclusive Kindle-content suppliers. Also, he says, Apple won't demand exclusivity rights.

He goes on to say that publishers are less than happy not only with Amazon's "wolfish cut" of revenue, but also with the fact that Amazon forbids advertising and demands exclusivity if publishers want to reach that magic 30/70 split. And then there's that grey-scale EPD display - hardly the ideal medium for rich rock 'em, sock 'em content.

The ebook market - and how it might help save struggling content providers - is most certainly grabbing publishers' attention these days. Just yesterday, for example, five major publishers announced a joint venture to develop a "digital storefront" to distribute ebooks and other content. Tellingly, their proposal envisions "a rich array of innovative advertising opportunities" - something both Amazon and the Kindle's EPD display prevent.

As Apple has proven with many of the iPhone apps it accepts into its sacred iTunes App Store, in-app advertising is just hunky-dory with them. There's no reason to assume that Cupertino would have a different attitude toward in-ebook, in-enews, or in-emag ads.

Which might - and this, be forewarned, is pure Reg speculation - have contributed to the decision by Simon & Schuster and the Hachette Book Group to delay the ebook editions of 35 of their most promising upcoming titles until four months after the hardcover editions hit bookstore shelves, as reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal .

S&S and Hachette, to be sure, are motivated primarily by the fact that ebooks command much lower prices than hardcovers, and so delaying them until a book's debut buzz has subsided makes simple - and good - business sense. Their decision to begin their four-month delaying tactic is likely completely unrelated to Apple's plans.

However, don your tinfoil hat for a moment and share with us the speculation that those two publishers might be in talks with Apple and have decided to delay their next surge of ebook launches until they can put those books onto a full-color platform that gives them a good revenue split and allows them to advertise their other wares - complete with online ordering, of course.

After all, wouldn't you prefer to see Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove's smiling visage in full color on the cover of his upcoming memoir, Courage and Consequence? It's scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in early March, just about the same time that Reiner's rumored Apple iPad would appear. ®

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