As we await the official announcement of the Apple tablet, the silence and unanswered questions has given us time to ponder the ways that the Apple tablet may impact the future of ePublishing.

The New York Times says that “Apple could help create a way for media companies to alter the economics and consumer attitudes of the digital era.” Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Blog, isn’t as optimistic. His recent post “Apple’s disruption of the eBook market has nothing to do with the tablet” examines how changes in the sales protocols may impact the eBook market more than the device will.

Let’s examine for ourselves the opportunities and challenges that may arise from the Apple tablet.

Models for eBook Sales

Shatzkin uses Michael Cader’s article as a guide. According to Publishers Marketplace's Michael Cader, Apple is negotiating confidentially with most or all of the six major publishers (Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan) to make eBooks available on a specific pricing and consignment model.

If the "agency” model prevails, it would allow a publisher to retain possession of eBook files and pays a commission to any company authorized to sell them. At present, the “wholesale” model lets publishers set the retail price, while sales partners can discount as they please.

But under an agency model, the publisher sets the price, and no one, not even Amazon, can discount it.

The Amazon Issue

As much as we speculate about Apple, we speculate as much about Amazon. Should they not abide by the “agency” model, it could mean initial losses to other publishers, who may carry titles they wouldn’t.

Amazon’s recent behaviors also keep us scratching our heads. They just announced that they’d increase royalties for authors who self-publish eBooks through its Kindle Digital Text Platform to 70% by June 30. It’s great news for self-published authors who agree to make their books available in several different Amazon formats and conditions.

Their apparent dedication to authors and ePublishing probably has more to do with positioning themselves before the Apple Tablet is released and less with aiding the future of the industry.

The Future of eMagazines, eNewspapers and eBooks

Even before its official introduction, at least three publishers -- Hearst, Condé Nast and Time -- have created mockups of their magazines for tablets. The optimism for the Apple Tablet has more to do with Apple, some might say, than it does with a tablet by another.

Like the iPod and the iPhone before it, Apple has been instrumental in changing the behaviors of its consumers. How we think of music, television and movies has changed. So the hope is that the tablet will whisk newspapers, magazines and other struggling print and web-based media away from all the pain they’ve suffered.

It’s Only the Beginning

When we talked to Jim Gaines not too long ago, he reminded us that the best is yet to come. Looks like the advancements that technology will bring have the potential to revolutionize the ePublishing world.