And I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing. It really isn’t that different from the open source business model that many tech companies use. Sure the software is free, but companies are able to make money and provide a better user experience with value-added features around it like bundling the open source solution with hardware, providing support contracts, and by customizing the solution to meet a specific need or goal (the most applicable option to this discussion).
With Google ready to shake up the entire ebook selling model, it’s almost expected that other companies would provide some sort of customization or value-added features to the standard EPUB format. It’s also worth noting that DRM is a customization of the format by each vendor (either individually or in conjunction with Adobes Digital Editions solution). DRM protects the seller and platform as well as the publishers investment in creating the content. It also prevents someone from altering the content and then re-publishing it.
As I recently discussed, ebooks don’t have the physical printing and distribution costs of print volumes, but they still entail almost all of editorial and production processes and costs. For many publishers, this is a sizable investment compared to the actual printing and distribution costs, which can be relatively low per unit when you’re printing in volume.
All that said, I’m not exactly thrilled with Apple’s selective approach either. I like that the company supports smaller publishers and self-publishing by using the EPUB format. It levels the playing field for smaller ebook producers much like the App Store does for smaller developers, which brings me to my issue with Apple’s approach. The company is no stranger to working with individuals as well as major companies to produce and sell content. iOS developers pay a fee to join Apple's developer program, which comes with access to the App Store and access to development resources (including the entire iOS SDK) under an NDA. It shouldn’t be a stretch for Apple to extend that philosophy to “enhanced” ebooks. Let anyone who wants to create them have access to the information and resources, but do it in a way that that information is protected.