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iBooks is Growing by 1 Million Customers(*) per Week

Our last session before lunch on this third and final day of the DBW conference was given over to what I had hoped would be a serious interview. Alas, if Amazon’s Russ Grandinetti didn’t say much during his interview yesterday, Apple’s Ken Moerer said even less today.

ken moerer dbw 2015 interview

My notes totaled 5 lines, and aside from warm and fuzzy non-statements Moerer really only said three things, none of which were very informative.

  • For example, iBooks is active in 51 countries 5 years after the April 2010 launch. (They’re not selling ebooks in all 51 countries, just present.)
  • iBooks recently hit 1 billion downloads. (That’s downloads, and not sales, which probably amount to fewer than 10% of downloads.)
  • And iBooks has been picking up an average of 1 million new customers a week since September. (Given that iBooks comes pre-installed on iOS8, all of the newly activated iDevices on new accounts count as new customers. How many are actually buying ebooks, we don’t know.)

All in all, that was a waste of an interview, and I blame Michael Cader for only lobbing softballs at Moerer. I agree with Len Edgerly; Shatzkin was much more challenging and intense when he grilled Grandinetti yesterday.

Update: It’s been pointed out to me on a mailing list that Apple sells considerably more than 1 million devices a week, so that "million new customers" probably does represent people who opened the app and downloaded an ebook.

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fjtorres January 15, 2015 um 4:30 pm

1 billion downloads sounds impressive.
Except it is a cumulative 5 year total…
Except that three years ago the brag was 400m…

And that two years ago the brag was 130m downloads of iBooks itself.
Last estimate I saw had well over 200m iPads sold. Add in iPhones and…

So what 1 billion tells us is their downloads have been flat since 2011 at about 200M a year (globally) at 1-2 downloads a year per iPad owner. (Phone owners not included.) That could be as high as 6-8 a year if we assume that 75% of iPad owners never download ebooks from Apple.

That would be a pretty decent number if it were sales (around 20-25% share) but for downloads (including freebies and presumably samples) that puts them in the 10-12% range assuming a 50-50 split. Could be lower if iBook users do a lot of samples. Could be a *lot* lower if the ratio of sales to downloads resembles apps.

I wonder if they think we’re not keeping track?
Those *are* their own brags.

Fbone January 15, 2015 um 5:14 pm

The brag of 400 million was stated October 2012 just over two years ago. That would give them closer to 300 million downloads each year since. Using your 50-50 split that gives us $750 million in iBook sales a year with $225 million in profit.

fjtorres January 15, 2015 um 7:00 pm

The brag was in october referring to the previous FY, not that specific date. So 300M a year is too high. 250M?
Regardless, $750M in sales is still just 13% and the per user sales minimal.

It is the latter I’m more interested in.
Either iOS users don’t buy ebooks or a lot of the ones who do read get their ebooks elsewhere.

Fbone January 16, 2015 um 5:59 am

I calculated the $750m on 250m to allow for time drag. The actual quote is "Customers have downloaded 'more than 1 billion books, worldwide and lifetime, to date.'" Notice the words "more than." So, we still can be underestimating the numbers. Did the exec get a tweet that morning with the latest figures? Or using an older data point?

In any case, I agree Apple is probably the 2nd most popular bookstore revenue-wise. Kobo and B&N would love to have Apple’s revenue.

Regarding the per user sales, well, in the US 25% haven’t read a book in the last year and 7% only read one book. Of the 75% that have read a book only 30% an ebook. After whittling out the eink users we reach a small percentage inclined to buy a book and read it on a tablet/phone. The exec mentioned strong sales coming from the iPhone 6 with the larger screen so it’s possible they’ll see increased sales in 2015.

He also states, "We don’t really track reading behavior." I’m not sure I believe that.

fjtorres January 16, 2015 um 8:48 am

I’m not really sure Apple is number 2 globally.
The odds are pretty good that they are…
Kobo has a pretty strong presence is a fairly recent number of markets.
And there is that big honking number of android phones and tablets out there that have PLAY installed by default.
I suspect most of these WAGs are underestimating Google…

fjtorres January 16, 2015 um 8:52 am

Jeeze… That should be:
KOBO has a big presence in a fairly large number of maturing markets.

Name (required) January 16, 2015 um 1:24 am

We have Apple reseller store (franchise, I think) in my small town in Europe.
Recently they have that 5K retina iMacs on display. So on my nearest visit to the mall I stopped by to drool. I have read up, that the new system works by using 2×2 pixels on screen to display each pixel in icons and other graphics, except for rendering text or graphics that can benefit from high resolution.
So I have started the installed iBooks app to have a look at sharply rendered text.
Very soon I have run into inconsistencies.
How do I change background to a different value than three pre-set ones? – You can’t.
How do I change justification? – You can’t.
How do I use different font than a small handful of pre-installed ones? – You can’t.
How do I increase font size without going to menu? – You can’t. Well, normally you can, but our localized keyboard has + sign on the same key as number 1. So when you press Command '+', you activate Command '1' – that means "One column"
How do you use pinch zoom on that wonderful huge touch pad? – You can’t. It does not work in iBooks.
So I have started to play with the machine, doing complicated stuff like trying to start a text editor. I knew I had to start Finder (a file manager) and go to apps. In apps I started to type "edit" on the text field in finder marked with a magnifying glass (that I assumed is "find"). Does not work …
I have called the staff and started to ask like: see … here I am, a total noob, only used to work on Windows [at work] (and also in FreeBSD and Linux [and a handful of other systems] and quite a few Window managers), so what I am doing wrong here?
They couldn’t tell me …

I have to run, Will finish post later …

JC January 16, 2015 um 2:42 am

Number of downloads for the app? Pfft… They bundle it with iOS 8 and OS X. It used to be optional, but now I’m stuck with it even though I don’t use it. Everyone who buys a new iDevice will have it by default. I’ve never bought anything from iBooks because they don’t even sell eBooks in my country so having that app is pointless since it isn’t even a good epub reader for content I can get elsewhere. Apple iTunes sells movies and music in my country. Amazon sells eBooks (but most will come with a mystery $2 surcharge no one can explain. No it’s not sales tax) and doesn’t sell any other digital content. Google Play will sell me ebooks and movies but not music. Ugh. When will these media companies get their acts together and stop this regional nonsense 🙁 this is why people who are willing to pay for digital content resort to illegal downloading or using VPNs to pretend they’re in the US.

Publerati January 16, 2015 um 7:04 am

Would love to see some research on why the avid readers of adult fiction on ebooks choose Amazon over Apple. We know from recent studies sales are shifting from print to ebooks within the adult fiction category. But with all the Amazon hate out there, logic says Apple would take some bigger market share from Amazon as a trustworthy alternative, not unlike what they did to Msoft with PCs in the early days. Many early Mac owners bought and still buy Macs to specifically not buy from Msoft. Why is this not happening for ebooks? My gut says the answer is that the anti-Amazon behavior is more posturing than real, similar to those who rail against Walmart while shopping there. This behavior is also true for the publishers and authors whose pockets have been lined with newfound gold due to Amazon. The fascinating human gap between what people say and what they actually do.

fjtorres January 16, 2015 um 9:46 am

Actually, if the 13% WAG is anywhere near close to reality, Apple *is* doing better against Amazon than they’ve ever done against Microsoft. In the computing world Apple hasn’t seen double digits in a generation and MS hasn’t been lower than 88% since OS/2 folded. And that is usage, not sales.

The thing about iBooks (and probably PLAY) is that they depend much more on casual readers than Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. All three got in early, targetting heavy book readers with dedicated devices. Apple and Google offer ebooks as just another checklist feature on their hardened. Back in 2013, when they introduced the Glolight, B&N made it clear the bulk of the ebook sales were to eink Nook owners.

eBook buyers mostly fall into two camps: heavy readers that can justify a single purpose device (in both cost and usage) and casual/social readers who can’t and do their reading only on multipurpose devices. Neither Apple nor Google compete in the dedicated reading gadget space but Amazon and Kobo and Nook do compete in the iOS and Android gadget space. That’s why the attach rate for ebooks is so low for iBooks: not only do the majority of cellphone and tablet owners not buy ebooks at all but of those that do buy, many go with the competing ebookstores instead of the preinstalled one.

Kindle and Kobo and even Nook cherrypick the heavy buyers, the 4-10 books a month readers, leaving Apple and Google to compete for the 4-10 books a year buyers. There’s a lot more cazual readers out there but you *need* a lot of them to sell as many books as one Kindle Voyage owner or Kobo HD owner will typically buy. Maybe as many as ten or more.

Try this: best estimates say there are some 40-60M Kindles in use today. Every last one buys their commercial ebooks from Amazon. And they each buy a lot of them. On top of that, there’s the casual readers who don’t own Kindles but use Kindle apps on iOS, android, Windows, etc. Even on web browsers. Anything with a browser can be a Kindle reading device.

That pretty much defines "reach" as far as digital goes.
Reputation and loyalty has little to do with it. Amazon just got there "firstest with the mostest". Against that, Apple has done pretty well.
But I suspect they’ve done about as good as they are going to get.

Just as they haven’t been able to make much of a dent in the Windows domains the odds of eating into the Kindle domain aren’t very high. So far, their net ebook gains have correlated with Nook’s decline, Kobo’s US stagnation, and the death of epub generics. Amazon has merrily grown with the market.

Sooner or later somebody will give Amazon a good ebook fight but right now it doesn’t look to be Apple. I would sooner bet on Scribd or Facebook. And both are dark horses…

Publerati January 16, 2015 um 10:19 am

Thanks for all the information and I agree with a lot of what you say. Here is a question: does Apple cross-promote ibooks to their huge installed base of music and movie buyers?

Nate Hoffelder January 16, 2015 um 10:25 am


Well, I don’t know if they actually cross-promote but Moerer did mention a spike in a title’s sales when a related movie hits theaters and then hits iTunes. You can see Len Edgerly’s live blog for more details.

Publerati January 16, 2015 um 10:44 am

Thanks Nate. Nothing really newsworthy there, though, as that has been happening naturally with print books for decades. One might think they would build some simple algorithms to figure that women who listen to, I don’t know…paid for lots of Joni Mitchell, are more likely to read literary fiction, so cross-promote Celeste NG’s new novel to them. This is of course work and possibly they do not see enough gain from books, which given the market size versus music would be an intelligent strategic decision. How truly committed to books are they I wonder in the face of the early advantages and turf they know Amazon owns. That would have been a good question although an honest answer would be unlikely given the venue.

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