Apple sold a bajillion iPads this past quarter – But how many ebooks?

Apple sold 9 and a quarter million iPads during its fiscal 2011 third quarter, and that’s a 183% increase over the same quarter last year. They sold all the iPads that they could make. They have over 220 million iGadgets out in the world.

But did you know that they won’t say how many ebooks they sold? That’s not a good sign.

Okay, I’ve harped on the sales figure topic before, so perhaps I should stop. But Apple screwed up here. They entered the ebook market a year too late.

What Apple should have done was buy Stanza in early 2009. That should have been their first move into ebooks. You might not remember, but there was an incredible buzz around Stanza at that time. It was the hot new iPhone app. At the time Amazon bought the company, Stanza was the killer app. And in case you were wondering, yes, I’m pretty sure Amazon bought Stanza just to keep it out of Apple’s hands.

So at this point I would argue that Apple will be more than a niche player in the ebook market, and i wonder if they should have entered at all?

If they’d never released iBooks (we wouldn’t have agency pricing, for one), Apple could have simply stood back and said “sure we’re in ebooks –  look at all the ebook apps on our platform.” Or Apple could have releases a completely free app with no ebookstore component, and then politely declined to enter the fray. They would have lost money on it, yes. But compared to Apple’s usual profit margin, they’re not making all that much of iBooks anyway.

As i sit back and look at the lack of data on iBooks, I have to wonder why Apple got into the ebook market this late. It has the overwhelming sense that they entered not because they could change the market, but because everyone else was already there. This is possibly an example of “me, too”-ism, taken to an unfortunate extreme.


Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. jorgen20 July, 2011

    Am I right in believing that Apple books can only be read on an Apple platform. If so, it does not make sense to buy books from Apple.

    1. Nate Hoffelder20 July, 2011


  2. Scott Nicholson20 July, 2011

    Yes, more iPads have sold than iBooks. Is Jobs still claiming to have a third of the ebook market?

    1. Nate Hoffelder20 July, 2011

      Ooh, great point! I missed that one.

  3. Mike Cane20 July, 2011

    Amazon most likely bought Stanza just to kill it. And they just about have. As with MobiPocket.

  4. Richard Adin20 July, 2011

    People buy iPads for myriad other reasons than reading. I suspect that if every iPad user were polled, less than 1% would respond that they read more than 1 novel a year, regardless of the method of reading (i.e., print or ebook). iPad is far from an ideal reading-for-pleasure device, because reading requires concentration, something that is in short supply in the Twit world.

    1. fjtorres20 July, 2011

      “Twit world.”
      I will have to remember that.
      Alas, it fits.

      Apple? They just thought they could waltz in, fashionably late and “kewl”-ly carve out a walled garden of ebooks. It worked for music and video. Not working for books.
      Trouble is, there already were two truly cool gardens in place already.
      Between Kindle 3g and NookColor, iBooks is getting ghetto-ized.
      iBooks only works if you’re all Apple all the time…
      …and even then…

      Apple won’t talk about iBooks just as they don’t (much) talk Apple TV or Pippin or Apple III or the Cube. Because Apple always succeeds and it is “uncool” to mention their biblical screwups.

  5. Ravi27 January, 2012

    I’m pretty sure Apple entered the eBook market to “protect” themselves from Amazon.

    If they had solely relied on third parties for eBooks they would inevitably end up hostage to Amazon (for Kindle) the way they used to be hostage to Microsoft and Adobe (for Office and Photoshop). Unfortunately, what Apple still hasn’t realized is that it is (and was) far, far too late. Especially since they just don’t understand the eBook market the way a bookstores do.

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