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Apple Should Get Serious About eBooks, And Other Navel-Gazing

6821831872_b2f9f35159_bSo The Bookseller has drunk the Kool-Aid and joined the school of thought that thinks it would be great if Apple got serious about the ebook market:

Apple is missing the boat on e-books.

And there’s billions of dollars at stake.

PWC estimates the 2018 US e-book market at $9B, FutureBook estimates the UK market at £381.5m. Apple gets 10%. That’s abysmal, considering the ubiquity of Apple devices. The Amazon/Hachette fiasco revealed that many in the book world don’t really like Amazon.

This is an opportunity for Apple.

If you’re buying an e-book, there’s only one place to go: Amazon. It’s not because of discovery; it’s mindshare. Most books aren’t discovered on Amazon – just bought there. Opportunity.

But it’s easy to forget how deeply Amazon has burrowed into the online book world. Most Facebook shares or book reviews link to Amazon. Amazon results dominate bookish web searches. Goodreads is the online books community.

If I ran iBooks, I’d launch a major initiative – Apple Books – with the goal to make Apple Books the destination of choice for book lovers (the app and website). By following Apple Music’s lead and focusing on Content, Curation and Community, Apple Books can become more than just a store. It can become an essential resource for book lovers, where books are discovered and discussed, and their authors are celebrated.

First, anyone who cites PWC estimates as anything other than a joke has obviously been smoking illicit substances (it’s time to share).

But more importantly, the piece in The Bookseller proves the old maxim that anytime someone comes to you, gushing about a great opportunity, they meant that it is a great opportunity for them.

The Bookseller is merely the latest in a long line of publishing industry insiders to get excited about Apple’s potential impact on ebooks without bothering to explain why the gadget maker would be interested (they also forget that Apple has never been that interested in competing in the ebook market, hence agency).

Here are a few of the bad ideas:

Why doesn’t Apple Books alert me when George R R Martin writes a new post? When a new book is released or goes on sale? When I’m at the airport and need a book for my flight?

Because users hate spam? I for one deleted the Medium app because it kept spamming me with notifications, and I know I’m not the only one to aggressively disable or delete apps which send annoying notifications.

Apple should offer a subscription product like Amazon Unlimited. Not because it’s great business, but to acquire customers.

So you want Apple to throw money away on your pet project? What’s in it for them?

I could go into detail and explain what is wrong with this post, but I don’t see a need to repeat myself. As I’ve explained before, Apple makes nearly all of its money from hardware sales, and so Apple only cares about ebooks so far as they will boost device sales. Along with movies, music, and apps, ebooks are just another check mark on Apple’s list of content types.

Come up with a reason why Apple would want to change that position, and then we can talk.


image by torbakhopper

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Mike March 29, 2016 um 4:26 pm

Apple should forget about content and go after the formats.

puzzled March 29, 2016 um 4:38 pm

"The Amazon/Hachette fiasco revealed that many in the book world don’t really like Amazon."

Those of us in the real world don’t share this opinion.

Nate Hoffelder March 29, 2016 um 4:44 pm

Yes, that point was irrelevant. Plus, I don’t think we needed the Hachette conflict to tell us that some book people don’t like Amazon.

Glinda Harrison March 29, 2016 um 5:07 pm

So let me get this straight: The Bookseller basically wants Apple to do everything Amazon is already doing because they don’t like Amazon? Have I parsed that correctly?

Nate Hoffelder March 29, 2016 um 5:15 pm

Yep. Or rather, they don’t like that Amazon dominates the ebook market (it’s not quite the same thing).

Do you see why I found it so irritating?

Scott G. Lewis March 30, 2016 um 12:16 am

"Most books aren’t discovered on Amazon – just bought there."

I don’t agree with that statement either. I discover the majority of my books on Amazon. Sometimes I browse a brick and mortar store. But otherwise I start with the place I’ll buy from anyway. Which is either Amazon’s site or emails from BookBub or similar that link directly there.

Nate Hoffelder March 30, 2016 um 7:11 am

Or, one of Amazon’s social sites?

Mackay Bell March 30, 2016 um 3:19 am

I don’t think it makes any sense for Apple to try to chase after Amazon in terms of "building a community." It will probably fail at that (because Amazon has such a huge head start and because Apple isn’t particularly good at social media apps). It would also fail very publicly, and I can’t see it being worth the risk.

What does make sense is for Apple to create or help get created enhanced ebooks that really take advantage of their high quality screens. They need to give people a reason to buy and read ebooks on an iPad (and possibly iPhones). That wouldn’t take a lot of content, but it would take high quality and interesting content. I don’t think the goal should be to compete with Amazon head on, iPad users can access Amazon through the Kindle App. But they do need to provide a reason to buy an iPad over a Kindle. Or to get someone to buy both. This worked in the video game world, where there was enough compelling exclusive material on the X-Box and the Playstation to force serious gamers to buy both machines. I think great enhanced ebooks could be enough of a motivation to get people to buy iPads (not just for the content, but also for the content).

Now, Nate will probably say, correctly, that no one has created compelling ebooks, and that is very true. But it makes more sense for Apple to try to break ground in that area, than to try to reproduce what Amazon is doing with the Kindle. Apple was one of the first companies to make it very easy to delivery and listen to podcasts. Podcasting for a long time was kind of a sleepy form of media, but then suddenly took off with 5 million downloads (I think in one wekk) of Serial. And now there are some people who can actually make a living with podcasting and it’s getting more notice. (And yes, people can download podcasts on many devices, but it’s good that Apple offers them too.) I think the same think could happen with enhanced ebooks, and all it would take is some particularly interesting content for it to also get some attention.

Anyhow, enhanced ebooks for the iBooks Store is something I personally plan to pursue, because I do think there is an opportunity. We’ll see. As they say, be the change you want to see.

Syn March 30, 2016 um 4:14 pm

I think by the time Apple does enhanced books, Amazon will definitely it better. They may be sleeping on kindle devices but they are still innovating.

Besides, IMO audiobooks is the next book market to watch out for and guess who owns that market too.

Nate Hoffelder March 30, 2016 um 5:35 pm

Don’t you mean, by the time Apple _invents_ enhanced ebooks?

Syn March 31, 2016 um 4:03 am

Oh for sure. I stand corrected Nate.

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