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Apple’s 2013 Best-Seller List Suggests That Apple is a Friend of Big Publishers

As the year iBooks-BookShelf[1]draws to a close, Apple releases their "Best of 2013" lists for iTunes and iBooks. The iBooks lists include both editor’s choice and best-sellers, and they reveals some startling differences from the lists that Amazon revealed a couple days ago.

You can only find Apple’s list inside iTunes, and since I can’t copy and paste the list that makes it rather hard to share and discuss. But I took a few minutes and typed up the 15 titles on the Fiction best-seller list.

As you can see below, the list includes both titles found on Amazon’s lists as well as a few surprise additions. Dan Brown’s Inferno led the list, but after that Apple’s list diverged sharply from Amazon’s:

  1. fifty+shades+of+grey[1]Inferno
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey
  3. Gone Girl
  4. Entwined with You
  5. The Great Gatsby
  6. Fifty Shades Darker
  7. Fifty Shades Freed
  8. The Cuckoo’s Calling
  9. The Fault in Our Stars
  10. Safe Haven
  11. And the Mountain Echoed
  12. A Song of Fire and Ice Omnibus
  13. The Hit
  14. Bared to You
  15. Six Years

A couple details jumped out at me. For one thing, the 50 Shades trilogy is on this list but not Amazon’s, leading me to wonder whether Amazon filtered that series from their list (they’ve done it before) or perhaps iBooks has more male customers (female customers would have tended to buy that series in 2012).

But the more important story here is that there are no indie pub titles on this list. This stands in stark contrast to Amazon’s lists, which included no less than 9 titles from indie authors (out of 40 titles) as well as other titles from small presses.

In fact, all of the titles on Apple’s fiction best-seller list and nonfiction list were published by one of the Big 5/6 US publishers; there aren’t even any titles from small publishers, much less indie authors.

I’m calling this out specifically because some in publishing see Apple as potentially being a strong ally against Amazon, but if this list is any indication then Apple is really only a friend of the major publishers. The small fry aren’t getting the sales and marketing attention in iBooks that would be needed to make it into the best-seller list, and that could translate to lower sales over all.

Yes, I know that Apple has launched a promo section in iBooks in some markets which focuses on Smashwords, but that effort doesn’t seem to be translating into sales. It’s also a far too specific promotion which doesn’t include indie titles from other sources.

In a way, this should come as no surprise. Amazon’s self-pub option requires a web browser and an internet connection. Apple asks that an indie author first buy a Mac before they upload any ebooks. If you cannot afford an Apple computer then Apple won’t sully their hands by dealing with you; they want you to use a distributor (Ingrams, Smashwords, etc).

Amazon is still the better friend to small presses and indie publishers. Or am I wrong?

Best of 2013

Apple Insider

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Paul December 18, 2013 um 9:28 am

I think you’re partly wrong. The biggest problem Apple has is with selection, there have been a number of indie books I tried to buy in iBooks and they weren’t there. I bought them from kobo and amazon instead. The irony of course is that for indie’s the Apple iBooks author tool is actually pretty good (as long as you don’t want it in anything else).

R. Scot Johns December 19, 2013 um 4:42 pm

And as Nate pointed out, only if you have a Mac. Which is very likely the reason you can find those titles on Amazon and Kobo but not iBooks. This will not change until Apple releases a Windows version of iTunes Connect and/or iBooks Author. I for one am not interested in switching to Mac, or buying one just to upload files.

Eric Welch December 18, 2013 um 10:04 am

I was a bit surprised by your suggestion that predominantly women would have purchased Shades in 2012 and men in 2013. I wasn’t aware of any data out there to indicate sales by gender. Source? And does Apple really have more male users than female of iBooks?

Nate Hoffelder December 18, 2013 um 10:05 am

I was thinking that men would have tended to have come to the series later than women, but that’s just based on conversations I overheard. I could be wrong.

Sarah Ettritch December 18, 2013 um 12:49 pm

Unfortunately you need a Mac to go direct to iBooks, which is why many indies skip it. If Apple allowed us to upload using the usual methods (apparently you can sign up and administer your books through a browser, but you can’t upload the book files), then there would be more indies there. Some indies use aggregators like Smashwords or D2D to get into iBooks, but others don’t like to do that (less revenue, less control).

R. Scot Johns December 19, 2013 um 4:44 pm

They also don’t support uploading fixed layout files, so if you’re doing illustrated titles you’re out of luck.

Denise Grover Swank December 18, 2013 um 9:24 pm

My book THIRTY AND A HALF EXCUSES is a self-published book on the iBooks Best of 2013 thriller list. However, it is the only self-published book on that list.

Nate Hoffelder December 18, 2013 um 9:36 pm

Can you tell me how I can find that list?

I would like to look deeper and possibly correct this post.

David Gaughran December 19, 2013 um 4:18 am

The short version is that indies do far, far better on Amazon than any other retailer because Amazon gives us a much more level playing field.

The long version is that the other retailers sell off most of the prime visibility spots to large publishers in "virtual co-op" deals (and keep the rest for hand-picked promotions by their merchandizing teams – which tend to go to higher priced tradpub books).

Amazon takes a different approach, and opens up those prime visibility spots to any book (whether that’s published by someone like me, Penguin, or one of their own imprints) in a weird and convoluted form of meritocracy. It’s all part of their over-arching philosophy that their system recommend the product (book) to the customer (reader) that they are most likely to purchase – whoever the supplier is, and whatever the price-tag.

Amazon knows that it might lose some margin on that first purchase (if, say, the system recommends a 99c self-published book ahead of a $9.99 tradpub book), but that they will gain *big* over the long-term as readers use and trust that recommendation system more and more.

I see it somewhat akin to the battle for search and search ads between Google and Yahoo over ten years ago. Yahoo sold the prime spots "above the fold" to the highest bidder. Google’s killer innovation was to make relevancy a key component in deciding which ads appeared in pole position.

Amazon is Google in this battle, and the other stores are taking the Yahoo approach. And we all know how that turned out.

Aside from this difference in philosophy, another key reason why indies do better on Amazon is because of their infinitely superior affiliate program. Because it’s that much more lucrative than the competition, reader sites tend to focus (exclusively in most cases) on Kindle deals, rather than deals on competing retailers. These sites are a key plank in the marketing efforts of indies, allowing them to build campaigns which can shoot them up the (Kindle) charts. Advertising options that have a similar effect on the iBookstore and Kobo are non-existent (and there’s only one which has any effect on Barnes & Noble – BookBub). Lots to pick from which will have some impact on the Kindle Store.

P.S. On a different matter – while I have you on the line! – you might have blogged about this already, but Amazon are on a big hiring push here in the Czech republic. There’s ads all over the metro, and someone sent me this today – – it’s in Czech, but basically says two fulfillment centers are opening in Prague and Brno. Obviously, this points to a physical Amazon store opening here (they say Q3 2014), but, given the relative size of the Czech market, I suspect this store will be serving other Central/Eastern European countries also.

Nate Hoffelder December 19, 2013 um 8:52 am

Amazon is probably also thinking of moving more of their operations out of Germany. They are facing more and more pressure from unions so it would make sense to flee to the Czech Republic where the operating expenses are lower.

David Gaughran December 19, 2013 um 9:08 am

That’s possible, but I think this is something else. The article says that a third, smaller unit is being built near Prague airport which will function as a complaint center for the German sites. And the article specifically states that they won’t be closing any existing centers in the EU.

Plus, if they were going to use a Czech distribution center to serve Germany, that could theoretically be done from Prague, but why build another one in Brno in the east of the country (another five hours away)?

Work starts in the second half of the year (I first read that as a physical store opening next year, but it’s when construction on the distribution centers commences). They say it will employ 4,000 full-time workers within three years of opening (no date given) and another 6,000 seasonal. Wages seem good in local terms.

Amazon are quoted as saying hiring begins in April 2014. The Czech trade minister is quoted who seems to think it’s a big deal. It’s hard to know what out of the above it attributable to whom, but it’s a reputable paper.

You can read a Google translated English version of the article here (it’s not a great translation, but you’ll get the idea):

Anyway, I’m living over here now so I’ll let you know when I hear anything else.

Johnny Pearseed December 19, 2013 um 10:58 am

"You can only find Apple’s list inside iTunes, and … I can’t copy and paste the list".

By gum, that bit alone tells you everything you have to know about Apple’s control-freak mentality.

I. Hate. Them.

Smashwords Launches New Website, Signs New Deal With Scribd – The Digital Reader December 19, 2013 um 6:58 pm

[…] All in all this should give indie authors a new way to connect with readers that should be more fruitful than ebookstores like iBooks, which has shown a clear bias in favor of major publishers. […]

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