Apple Doesn’t Love iBooks
Every so often a pundit makes the prediction that _this_ will be the year that Apple gets interested in iBooks (and, for example, launch iBooks apps for Android), but as but as Daniel Steinberg pointed out yesterday it is clear from Apple’s indifference to iBooks that they do not care about ebooks.
I’ve joked that if Eddie Cue loved reading the way he clearly loves music, then iBooks, the iBookstore, and iBooks Author would be amazing. Not only aren’t they amazing, they aren’t even good.
It’s like they’ve assigned a committed carnivore to design the meals and cook for Vegans. You need someone who loves and understands vegetables and shares the commitment to not using meat or meat products.
How do you find someone who loves books and reading?
Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Steinberg starts with laying out how iBooks Author could have become a focal point for ebook production, that "iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business" had Apple made it easy for users to push to Amazon as well as iBooks.
He does have a point; easy uploading would have given iBooks Author an advantage over competing apps like Scrivener and Oxygen. (Then again, when was the last time Apple made apps which played well with Apple’s competition?)
In any case, before Apple can care about being compatible with competing services, they would first have to care about user experience.
As has been pointed out before, Apple has an obsession with making sure rules are followed in iBooks:
Yesterday, I uploaded my latest version of my book to Gum Road and to iBooks. Within minutes I was getting email notifications of sales of my book on Gum Road.
An hour later my book was approved for sale on iBooks. This is remarkably quick. It used to take days. I looked online and my book wasn’t on the iBookstore yet. Also, my name was still listed incorrectly.
In the tool for uploading your book to the iBookstore, the prompt for the author’s name reads "Last Name, First Name". So I entered it that way. So my book appeared on the store as written by "Steinberg, Daniel H" and was not connected in any way to any of my other books. It turns out it’s been like that for months – I just found out about it.
I called customer support and opened a ticket. The person was as nice as can be and said they couldn’t change it but I could upload a new version of the book with my name corrected and then they could fix it.
So I called customer support yesterday after I uploaded the new version of my book to check that the name was fixed.
Derrick told me that it probably was but I couldn’t be sure until the book appeared on the store.
But, I told him, iTunesConnect says my book’s been approved – can’t he check.
Well, he said, it has been approved but it might not appear on the store for a day and I should check back.
As I found out later when the puzzled emails started to pour in to my Inbox, my book hadn’t been approved. In fact, the existing book was pulled from the store for violating Apple policy. The version that had been for sale on the store for two months incorrectly used the word "iBook" as in "When I released this iBook." Apple wants you to refer to it as a book. Using the word "iBook" in this context violates Apple policy and they had removed my book.
Then they went home.
I fixed the problem within minutes and uploaded it.
Apple rejected my upload. The version number wasn’t larger than the version number of the current book for sale on the store.
But they had rejected version 0.3 so it wasn’t for sale on the store. This was a correction that would be updating version 0.2.
No. Because they approved it before they rejected it my version had to be incremented.
So I incremented it and uploaded it.
I’m hoping that when they get into work this morning, they’ll check that I fixed what I needed to fix and they’ll sell my book again under my actual name.
While Apple doesn’t have to remove that stick from their ass, it would be a good first step. They could then use the excess energy to improve how the iBooks unit functions, and then develop better software.
No, I take that back.
Do you know the one thing Apple would do first if they really cared about ebooks?
This move is so obvious that the only reason Daniel didn’t think of it was that it goes against everything Apple stands for, but if Apple really cared about ebooks, if Apple really cared about its customers, then –
It would let its competitors sell ebooks in their apps for iOS.
Apple has blocked this feature since early 2011, even though it hurt the very folks who pay Apple for its hardware. (Furthermore, for a long time there Apple wouldn’t even let content apps link to their websites – not even the help pages.)
Edit: A reader called me on my language. It would be more correct to say that Apple won’t let anyone sell content inside an iOS app without paying Apple its 30% vig. That point really doesn’t matter because Amazon can’t afford the vig, and the point remains that if Apple cared about users then they would stop demanding the vig.
Apple clearly cares far more about making sure rules are followed than they care about users on either the supply side or the consumer side, and until that changes (or until someone senior at Apple cares enough to change the rules) iBooks will continue to be a frustrating experience.
Chris Meadows February 8, 2017 um 11:54 am
Sounds like "sour grapes" on Apple’s part. Got their hands slapped over their Grand Plan to make the Bestest Ebook Store Ever through agency pricing, turned out not to be able to make a dent in the market, and finally threw up their hands and gave up in disgust.
Fbone February 8, 2017 um 1:24 pm
According to Author Central, Apple has 10-12% of the market.
Fahirsch February 8, 2017 um 1:56 pm
I love Apple products. Started using them for at least 35 years. But as long it’s prices are higher than Amazon’s and their DRM is uncrackable I won’t buy in the Apple Store
Will Entrekin February 8, 2017 um 7:09 pm
"It would let its competitors sell ebooks in their apps for iOS.
Apple has blocked this feature since early 2011"
Does it? I could swear I’ve read that Amazon (for example) could enable sales in its Kindle app if it gave Apple 30% of each purchase (it would basically be in-app purchases).
Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple a cut, so no sales in Kindle.
I haven’t had the experience with Apple or iBooks many report. I’ve read a lot of criticism, that Apple should make it possible to upload via web, rather via the Mac-only iTunes Producer — I’d probably argue the same if I weren’t an Apple user. (Between iTunes Producer and Vellum, I think a Mac is probably a better investment than in ISBNs for authors.)
My experiences have been generally positive. I don’t think the workflow is perfect, but then, I don’t think KDP’s bookshelf or reporting dashboards are, either. Lately I’ve been using my iPad more than my Paperwhite for reading, though I still shop via the Amazon webstore, and the screen is great and reading is awesome.
Nate Hoffelder February 8, 2017 um 7:10 pm
I left out a few details, yes.
Will Entrekin February 9, 2017 um 7:57 am
Saw your edit. I think some anti-Apple bias is getting in your way here. Apple’s terms are 30% commission on all app sales across the board, whether those sales are of apps themselves or in-app purchases. To put it another way, you wouldn’t claim that "It would be more correct to say that Amazon won’t let anyone sell content on its Kindle platform without paying Amazon its 30% vig" would you? And why are we suddenly talking about gambling?
What’s most interesting is how the shopping experience works from either side. Apple gets it right by supporting great in-app shopping — when the books are available. Amazon has a better app and selection, but shopping in the iOS app is not possible and shopping via the e-ink readers is horrible.
I think the real solution needs to come from Amazon’s side of things, not Apple’s. And I think there are two possibilities:
1) Give KDP authors the choice of availability in the iBookstore for reduced commission. Because that’s really what it is. So say a book is $4.99. Amazon could list it as $4.99 in the Kindle app, Apple takes its 30% commission, Amazon takes its 30% commission, and the author gets what remains.
2) Kindle Unlimited. Technically we’re talking about in-app purchases; commission doesn’t come into play with subscriptions/streaming. Amazon could, I think, simply integrate Kindle Unlimited availability into the Kindle app.
The latter would help the Kindle app but wouldn’t fix the iBookstore, but why would Amazon need or want to?
Nate Hoffelder February 9, 2017 um 9:02 am
Apple wants a 30% cut when they don’t (and can’t) provide any part of the Kindle sales experience. Apple’s in-app store for iOS apps is limited to only a few thousand items, while the Kindle Store carries several million titles.
So yeah, calling that 30% a vig – a term which has connotations of organized crime, not gambling – is apt.
And this is wrong:
When Oyster sold subs inside its app, it had to pay Apple a cut. The same would go for Netflix, Hulu, etc. Even Comixology paid Apple its vig – which is why Amazon stripped the store from the Comixology iOS app ASAP.
Will Entrekin February 9, 2017 um 10:09 am
A vig is the amount a bookie charges on a bet. So it’s gambling in the context of organized crime.
So far as subscriptions/streaming . . . I feel like I read somewhere that’s why several service providers increased their subscription fees. Didn’t Netflix hike up their subscription from $9.99 to $12.99?
Apple wants a 30% commission for sales that occur on its platform. Just like Amazon wants either 30% or 70% commission for sales on its platform.
Nate Hoffelder February 9, 2017 um 10:33 am
This is BS:
Amazon gets a cut because it is selling the ebooks; Apple demands a vig because they own the platform. The two are not the same. And before you go further I would remind you that Amazon takes a much smaller commission on products sold through its marketplace.
So no, Apple’s 30% vig for doing nothing is not reasonable.
John February 9, 2017 um 11:38 am
“Amazon takes a much smaller commission on products sold through its marketplace.”
Well actually, let’s get the facts right…
Q: What is the revenue split with Amazon on in-app purchases?
A: Amazon pays developers 70% of the marketplace list price.
Conclusion: Amazon demands a vig because they own the platform too (App Shop, which is pre-installed on Kindle Fires and available on Google Play)
Nate Hoffelder February 9, 2017 um 11:43 am
I was talking products sold in the marketplace by third party sellers, not content. (I didn’t know that the apps were also sold through a "marketplace".)
But I don’t see the problem; Amazon is the one selling the digital content, and they are handling all aspects of the customer experience.
In comparison, Apple wouldn’t be selling you ebooks for the Kindle Store, or processing the payment, or handling returns. Amazon would handle that themselves.
So why would Apple get a vig for doing nothing?
Will Entrekin February 9, 2017 um 12:57 pm
If Amazon enabled ebook sales in the Kindle app for iOS, I think Apple would, in fact, process the payment. It would function in the same way as when you, for example, buy coins in a mobile game. Take Pokemon Go: Niantic developed the game and published the app, but if you buy coins in the app, the payment is processed by Apple. Same with magazine subscriptions purchased in app, in fact; when my subscriptions for Esquire, GQ, and Vanity Fair renew, I get receipts from Apple, not those publications — who often don’t know I’m a subscriber, judging by their own emails.
But what none of this really gets at is that if Apple really loved ebooks and wanted to create a great ebook experience and do for ebooks what iTunes did for digital music (and Apple Music now does), it would be investing in making the iBookstore better (not enabling its competition). As it stands, they’ve done merely the barest minimum to keep up with B&N and Kobo. I’ve long held that Kindle exclusivity isn’t necessarily bad if only because it appears that Amazon is the only one who actually does love books and reading. Their commitment to the Kindle development lab is just one demonstration.
Nate Hoffelder February 9, 2017 um 1:10 pm
And by the way, Amazon doesn’t force developers to use its store platform (hence why competing ebok apps have their own stores on the Fire tablet). That renders your comparison invalid.
Maria (BearMountainBooks) February 9, 2017 um 2:00 pm
I wanted to upload my books directly to apple–can’t do it without a "current" machine with "current OS approved version." Seriously. They make you maintain VERY CURRENT hardware to upload books yourself and maintain all that goes with that. I have an iPad but it wasn’t good enough. It had to be a particular subset of Apple products.
The problem is that Apple doesn’t care about the reader OR the author. They control enough market share that it works for them. But Amazon, and to some extent Google and even Samsung, are chipping away at their exclusivity rules/temperament. Shrug. I use Smashwords to get my books up there, but it’s not ideal. Apple is used to pushing people around. By the time it costs them enough customers, it will probably be too late to regain momentum.
Mackay Bell February 9, 2017 um 2:47 pm
I formatted one of my books using iBooks Author and found it much easier to use than Scrivener and other alternatives for Kindle. The formatting options on iBooks Author are wonderful and you have real WYSIWYG features. Creating an iBooks account was a little more work than KDP, but not too bad. All an all, pretty easy.
I think most of the complaints about iBooks expect Apple to have different business priorities. Apple’s primary focus is to sell hardware (and make great hardware). I personally think that’s smart. They aren’t chasing for market share in media. They expect you to buy their products if you want the full experience. So iBooks Author is designed to create books that work well on Apple products and also require you use an Apple product. If you love Apple products like I do, that isn’t even an issue. If you don’t want to use Apple products, yes, it’s a problem. And yes, Apple’s stuff costs more. Their priority is to sell expensive stuff at a big profit margin. If you don’t like that, there are alternatives.
I don’t find it a major inconvenience that I can’t buy ebooks directly through the Kindle app on my iPad. They sync up fine when I buy them from my Kindle or online.
People have been suggesting since Apple first was created that they should shift gears and sell cheaper stuff that is compatible with other cheaper stuff. I don’t think that’s good advice. Apple has thrived as a luxury brand and walled garden. (Most profitable tech company on planet.) Even if it was good advice, Apple’s not likely to take it.
For us self-publishers, I think we ignore Apple at our peril. (And complaining ain’t going to work either.) Game developers who shunned Apple back in the day are now losing out on huge market share in iOS games. Apple’s real focus right now is on their iPhone market (which also locks people into the iOS garden). They are continuing to grow market share, including in larger screen devices that are better for reading. I still prefer reading ebooks on my Kindle, but more and more I find myself reading on my large iPhone because it’s more handy. I suspect the iBooks market is going to continue to grow, and like games on iOS, might someday really take off. I personally plan to be ready for that.
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