The Problem with Apple and eBooks, Redux

appleeatandroid[1]News of Apple's acquisition of Booklamp is still percolating through the blogosphere but the pundits are already starting to weigh in. Make Cane has taken the position that Apple needs to expand beyond their hardware, but I'm not sure I would agree:

A Kindle book can be read on any damned platform — Kindle device, iOS, Android, Mac, PC.

Books bought from the Apple iBookstore are locked to Apple’s iOS and OS X hardware, period. Who wants book lock-in? No one.

Apple can think better recommendations will help, but if they want to be serious in selling books against Amazon — and with over one billion devices out there, they should — they need to liberate books from their Apple-only grasp.

And on the writer’s side of things, don’t require OS X hardware to submit to the iBookstore.

Yes, Apple would sell more ebooks if they expanded beyond their hardware, but when has that ever been Apple's strategy?

Apple would sell more music if they released an Android app, and the same can be said for movies and ebooks.  But Apple hasn't done so, and I think it's time to acknowledge that the strategy is working for Apple.

That is especially true in the case of ebooks. By my estimate, Apple sells more ebooks than B&N.

According to B&N's last quarterly report, their annual ebook sales totaled $246 million. We don't know how much Apple has made from ebooks in the past year, but we do know that their content sales (plus Apple Care fees) totaled $4.5 billion last quarter.

If ebooks account for even 5% of that four and a half billion dollars then Apple would be generating nearly as much ebook revenue in a single quarter as B&N generated in an entire fiscal year.

Now, that estimate of Apple's ebook revenues is entirely supposition (sadly) so let me present you with another argument.

If Apple developed an iBooks app for Windows and Android they would be doubling their support costs and significantly increasing their development costs (perhaps as much as twice as high as it is now).

Would this double Apple's content sales? Probably not.

Apple would be going up against Amazon, which is much better at selling content than Apple and already has solidly performing apps on any worthwhile platform. What's more, Apple wouldn't be able to put their competitors at a disadvantage; everyone would have in-app purchases.

This is perhaps Apple's single greatest advantage on iOS, that they have made it difficult for everyone else to sell ebooks. This is probably the main reason why Apple is the second largest ebookstore in the world, and it is an advantage which Apple would not have on other platforms.

Don't get me wrong, I would like to see Apple competing on more platforms. But the idea that more platforms equates with MOAR COMPETITION, BETTAR REVENUE is false. The real situation can't be summed up as simply as as Mike made it appear.

image found via Photobucket

About Nate Hoffelder (11598 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

44 Comments on The Problem with Apple and eBooks, Redux

  1. When Apple first started to release ebooks they were locked to iOS devices only. As a result of that, I haven’t ever purchased an ebook from them. I want to be able to read my books on as many devices as possible.

    • ^^ This. And while it’s possible to disinfect Apple’s DRM so I could read the book where *I* want to, not where *Apple* wants me to, it’s enough of a hassle that it just isn’t worth jumping through the hoops, unlike disinfecting Amazon or AdopePub files.

    • I do own a macbook and I just checked and I do have the ibooks application installed but I have never bought a book through ibooks. My phone and tablet are android devices and I buy most of my ebooks through amazon. Their Kindle app works on all my devices and they synch really well. Apple will not get my business just yet.

      Interesting to see Apple developing their ebook selling department, ibooks is now standard on all devices and it looks like they want to get some sort of recommendation system working. I guess they want to expand into the ebook market.

    • I can read my ebooks on that I purchase in iOS on my computer in iBooks app. I admit I do have an iMac (OSX), and I’m not sure if iBooks is available for other platforms, but its not true that ebooks are locked to iOS.

  2. I think it all depends on the quality of their hardware. It’s just anecdotal, and small sample size, but I’ve noticed a lot of people who were rah rah Apple all the way 2 or 3 years ago are voicing more and more complaints about their new devices. The lock in is great for them so long as the devices remain tip top. But if that slips, the price and that same lock in can quickly turn into an albatross.

  3. If we rewind to 2010-11, before Apple crippled competing reading apps by forcing them to take out in-app purchases, iBooks was totally sputtering and a distant third in ebook sales to Kindle and Nook on iOS according to a Nov 2010 survey. They were barely ahead of Kobo and bragging of downloads rather than actual sales to puff up iBooks usage with freebies and PD titles.
    Shortly afterwards they started talking about ending in-app purchases of ebooks.

    Apple remembers all that and they know they can’t compete on neutral platforms, not with Amazon and not with Nook. So taking on the added development and support costs (which aren’t negligible) is very likely not worth it for the limited gains they might make. At least, not as long as Nook is still around.

    • Plus, they kinda suck at developing software … especially for non-Apple systems.

      • No argument here. I would have put that in the post but it read like I was bashing them.

      • Kind of absurd to say that Apple’s software sucks. The iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac before it are all about the software. It is the software than no one has been able to match. Then there is iMovie, which revolutionized home movies, and Final Cut Pro. Sure people can bitch about individual apps, sometimes they hit and miss, and sometimes they don’t have every feature, but software is really Apple’s main strategic advantage.

        • While an OS is software, I was referring to Apple’s applications. The Maps app—whether for iOS or OSX—remains inferior to Google’s product. For years, iTunes has been a resource hog on both Apple and Windows machines; and for Windows it completely ignored affordance by disallowing people to browse and copy music to iPods using the Windows directory structure. iTunes Producer, previous to the update that came with the release of Mavericks, was a complicated mess. Mavericks also broke Mac Mail and months on I still cannot get it to retrieve anything over IMAP. With few exceptions—Final Cut Pro among them—any application made by Apple has likely been done better by another developer.

          My point, however, with my comment was in regard to an iTunes Producer release for Windows: based on its performance with other Windows offerings—notably iTunes—I cannot see Apple executing very well on it, assuming for a moment they’d release a version for Windows in the first place.

          Don’t get me wrong… Apple does lots of things very well. But, on the whole, application development isn’t one of them.

  4. Its a lot easier to import graphic novels and ebooks into the Apple platform than a lot of others I’ve used.

    And is Amazon doing so well when they can’t even break even?

  5. Apple’s been known to expand beyond hardware before. iTunes, Safari, and Quicktime are all available for PC (I know, because it seems like every time I boot up my PC I’m prompted to update all three–even though I only have iTunes installed).

    Recently, I wondered if Apple requires Mac hardware to upload to the iBookstore because iBooks is an app, and not an online retailer like anyone else. The other online retailers have websites by which you can browse and purchase ebooks, but iBooks was, until recently, iOS only, and now it’s really only expanded to Macs too.

    Not saying that makes it right, or anything, but I wonder if there might be some technical reason (beyond me, obvs) to require hardware/software to upload to software. Maybe there’s something about iTunes Producer that ties it to Mac infrastructure?

    • This is something I hadn’t considered. It makes sense, but when I think about what’s happening… I’m not convinced that it’s true. Producer’s just a delivery vehicle for text, a file and a picture to a database. I wouldn’t think there’d be any architecture limitations preventing a Windows or Web application from delivering assets to Apple.

  6. Companies that underestimate Apple usually regret it. (Ask Blackberry.) That’s why Google so frantically leapt into phones and why Amazon called their buddies at the DOJ when Apple first moved on books by making a deal with the big publishers.

    The DOJ lawsuit clearly clipped Apple’s iBooks wings at launch and I suspect they’ve decided to keep a low profile with iBooks until they finish their appeals.

    That being said, as a serious Apple fan, whenever I buy an ebook, I check the price on iBooks and Amazon and if they are equal (or iBooks is cheaper), I buy from Apple. Most of the time, Amazon is cheaper. But it’s close enough often enough that I have a few dozen iBooks. Plus when books are offered for free, either a Starbucks promotion or something, or a public domain book, I always get it from iBooks.

    I’ve only used Apple computer devices for the last twenty years and they’ve served me well. It’s unlikely I’ll use anything else in the next decade or maybe ever. I have more faith Apple will be around twenty years from now than Amazon (though I think Amazon is great and probably will last). So I would prefer to have all my books on iBooks, but it’s really no problem switching between it and the Kindle app. I also prefer the iBooks interface because it looks more Mac-like and the Kindle apps Android/Windows dual orientation is visually obvious.

    Clearly, most Apple users are not as fanatical as me, but I’d be willing to beat there are enough millions similar Apple fans that iBooks will always make a healthy profit, if Apple wants it to. Apple’s primary goal is to keep it’s base happy, and I doubt if they care whether Android users buy from them or from Amazon. Particularly after the DOJ lawsuit, they are unlikely to be interested in getting a majority share of book sales.

    As far as requiring self-publishing authors to use a Mac to upload, there are too good reasons for that.

    1. Yes, they want to encourage people to buy their hardware. If a writer has a five year old Windows laptop, and they want to get on iBooks, they might consider getting a Mac so they have the option. I see nothing sinister in encouraging people to use their hardware. Personally, I think they’re doing writers a favor. It really is time to dump Windows if you have any real desire to be creative with your computer. But if you can’t/won’t buy a Mac, then I’m sure you can find a computer nerd somewhere that will upload you to iBooks for a modest fee (or even free). And there are plenty of services for that too.

    2. Apple is also encouraging people to use iBooks Author, which is still very much a work in progress. It’s pretty good now , but it’s likely to get better and better. Right now, it’s the easiest way for a non-computer programmer to do really great enhanced ebooks. So far, it’s still an open question how much of an appetite there is for enhanced ebooks, but I wouldn’t write them off yet. It one or two break out, there could be a rush for them. Could Apple make a version of iBooks author for windows? Sure, but why bother? See point #1.

    I suspect over the next few years there will be a few iBook exclusives (created by iBooks Author) what will break out and seriously encourage people to migrate to iBooks. That might already be happening in education. Meantime, Apple is making a bundle and they have no reason to service people who don’t like their computers.

    • I’m breaking silence.

      Apple is the one that persevered and took on Microsoft – Intel.

      And maybe a nice non-exclusive eBook subscription service would be just what the DOJ doctor could smile about.

      Disclosure: I’ve had a Mac since ’92, and bought from Amazon since ’96. None of those have changed.

    • “Companies that underestimate Apple usually regret it. (Ask Blackberry.) That’s why Google so frantically leapt into phones and why Amazon called their buddies at the DOJ when Apple first moved on books by making a deal with the big publishers.”

      Google was working on a phones long before the iPhone was announced – before it was even rumored, in fact.

      As for the other, now that Apple lost two appeals, the claim that Amazon has friends at the DOJ is threadbare. Unless you are going to claim Amazon has friends in the 2nd Circuit Court and in 33 attorney’s general offices, I think it’s time to concede that all of the judges and lawyers involved are convinced that Apple conspired, and that Judge Cote’s ruling was sound.

      • Google was experimenting with a phone with a physical keyboard, and quickly shifted to touch screen after the iPhone. It’s pretty well documented they completely changed directions:

        http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/04/14/exclusive-android-docs-reveal-before-iphone-googles-plan-was-a-java-button-phone

        The key quote is from Android team member Chris DeSalvo who stated that after seeing the iPhone, “As a consumer I was blown away. I wanted one immediately. But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.'” This is the Android guy.

        Also, the DOJ didn’t suddenly wake up someday and realize there was a conspiracy in book publishing. It’s pretty clear that Amazon knew what was afoot well before the DOJ moved in. It’s not unreasonable that Amazon complained they felt there was a conspiracy. That seems logical and likely. Now, you can take it one step further and assume Amazon might have alerted class action shark lawyer Steve Berman as Salon implies:

        http://www.salon.com/2014/01/12/amazons_bogus_anti_apple_crusade/

        The key quote there is: “Conflicts of interest (real and imagined) are common where revolving doors of power are concerned. Sharis Pozen, the acting director of the DOJ antitrust division, who decided to join the Amazon/Apple suit, left public service in 2012 for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a prestigious firm whose clients include none other than Amazon. ” DOJ acting director goes to work for Amazon’s law firm shortly after DOJ lawsuit. Hmm…

        None of which means Apple didn’t conspire with the publishers. As to conceding Apple lost, let’s see what the Supreme Court decides, since it’s clear Apple is headed there.

        Regardless, my point is the same. Even if Apple is/was guilty of anything, even if they end up losing the Supreme Court review, it would make sense that they are going to move slowly on iBooks until the dust is settled on the lawsuit.

    • It really is time to dump Windows if you have any real desire to be creative with your computer.

      This was true once upon a time. I’m a dual user and there’s very little I can do on my Mac that I can’t do on my PC. In fact, of the handful of tools I can’t use on my PC all but one are made by Apple.

    • So Amazon notifies the DoJ that the publishers are acting in concert to force a change to how they conduct business and you characterize it as a good ole boys activity yet have no issue with Apple’s they did it too with regard to informing the FTC regarding in app purchases? http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/apps-and-kids-google-may-be-next-in-ftc-crosshairs-108671.html

  7. Nice article, thanks.

    I’m just reading the first comments, and i want to add a point ; the DRM on the ebooks are a choice made by the publishers. When we add a book to sell, we decide if we want the DRM on the eBook or not, for Apple, Kobo, and Adobe DRM. I don’t know with B&N, but i know for Amazon, there is no choice for the reader, i had to buy the book and read them on the Amazon App. So, if you buy a book on the iBooks Store, and you can’t read them on other platform, it’s not because Apple, but the publisher who made choice to put on his book, a DRM.
    Now, you know, and it’s clear !
    🙂

    • But does Apple offer a separate download option? The ebook may lack DRM but if it is difficult to get the ebook that doesn’t really matter.

      • When you download an ebook, and make a sync with iTunes, you can go to the folder iTunes Media/Books and pick your book to read with an other e-reader. IF, and only if, there is no DRM install by the publisher ! 😉

    • i know for Amazon, there is no choice for the reader, i had to buy the book and read them on the Amazon App.

      You are so wrong on so many points, which makes me believe you aren’t at all familiar with Amazon’s book-buying and book-borrowing (libraries and Prime lending).

      1. You can download all your books and music to your PC. I’ll spare you the details. Read the instructions.

      2. There are two levels of DRM, if the publisher chooses that. The second level is the one Amazon applies. NOBODY does it any differently. iBooks does it, Nook does it (and they have custom code, too), Kobo does it. Don’t call Amazon out for an industry standard, especially when they supply ready access.

      3. All books are crackable. That people don’t know or care or want the hassle doesn’t mean it’s not widely done. In short, the books ARE accessible and more accessible from Amazon than anyone else.

      4. As for choice and the lack thereof, there is no company more interested in forcing one to do what they want than Apple. People go to Amazon because they DO have choices as to how to dispose/store their digital books and movies.

      If you’re in a position to advise people about these things, you are telling them the exact wrong thing.

    • 5. you can read a Kindle book on your PC or Mac. A simple Google search would tell you this. The book is stored in a folder on your hard drive, and is as easily moved or copied from that folder to any other.

      Yes, I do do this for a living.

  8. I had no idea I could do this. Not sure I’d ever need to, but darn good to know, thank you!

  9. Only add, every distributor out there–Bookbaby to Smashwords and all in-between, has a service that’ll get valid epub files to iBooks, no Mac required. You usually give up 10% of the list price, but it’s worth making sure the title is in every market Apple serves.

    I really don’t know how serious Apple is about selling ebooks, they do seem to be making something of an effort, if only ‘cuz they’re mad about the whole DOJ thing.

    • Yes, this is true. I personally choose not to use Smashwords for my distribution needs, but I advise my clients to do that because it consolidates their accounts management.

  10. Anyway, when you buy to Amazon, you want to read your book with the Amazon App, same point with Apple, B&N, Kobo. So… no matter if you have DRM or not.

    • But, in a traditionnal library, they don’t sell e-reader with his system, the DRM, like Adobe, can be a big problem for some users !

    • No, when I buy a book I want to read it in the app (or device) I choose (currently an e-ink Kindle standalone, Marvin for the rare times I read on my phone, calibre’s native reader on my laptop).

      With an Amazon or AdobePub book doing this is trivial. With an ApplePub book this is but a big enough pain in the ass that I don’t bother, I just buy my books elsewhere.

  11. Even if Amazon are the King in the court, the only place where I can find an ePub 3 eBook is in the iBooks Store. For the one who want to read with the advantage of the ebooks !

  12. @C1C4 – this is gonna show a lot of ignorance on my part, but what are some of the advantages of an ePub 3 eBook? Thanks!

  13. @Felipe Adan — Enhancements (enrichments) like audio, vidéo, animations with CSS and JavaScript. Take a look with Éditions Panda (@eBooksPanda). There is 3 first titles this year, a lot of work, animations, audio made in a pro studio, and tools for young readers (Read Along), and of course, great text and brillant illustrations. Soon in English and Spanish. This is the team of Studio C1C4 who worked on these books. Look too, “Les images que nous sommes” also on the iBooks Store, an other great eBook with enhancements made our team. 😉 For Editions Panda in Amazon, the ebooks are static.

    • Thanks C1C4, sounds fabulous! We’ve got a nearly 1 1/2 old grandson that will eat this stuff up! Counting on him to upload all our content and build us our own computer by the time he hits pre-K 🙂 But seriously, he can already manipulate FaceTime screens, You-Tube, and the tv – not always how we’d like, but impressive 🙂

      I’ll check out those titles, and do wish ya’ll the very best – all kinda data showing young readers mitigate huge differences in income, schools, etc. Not all differences of course, but significant – this is important stuff ya’ll are doing 🙂

      • Ah great ! I have 3 kids (3, 5, 7 years old) and yeah, it’s awesome. We call this generation, the “Native” or “Techno Native” ! 😉 Thanks for your support, and thanks for The Digital Reader for this article and all !

  14. From a person who is not a big tech person I feel taken advantage of and that apple has ripped me off, I OWN the books I am embarrassed at how naive I was to think i could make transactions that could be simple honest & not get bit in the ass!!! Maybe others have experienced this problem with other systems, I kept running into problems (with apple) because I did not have a computer- so I got a computer and I’m still the ass. I know my experience is small or narrow when compared with all the technology out there. Right now all I can think is the APPLE SUCKS!!!!!!

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