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No, Apple’s iBookstore Won’t Make a Run for Market Share in 2016

11390495316_3d42a7451d_hWith the new year less than two weeks old, many pundits are posting their predictions on what we’ll see in the coming year, and that includes book agent Laurie McLean.

Writing over at Anne R Allen’s blog, McLean looks into her crystal ball and makes a number of improbable predictions, including that Apple will suddenly develop an interest in the ebook market:

I’m not sure about this one, but if anyone can take aim at reducing Amazon’s market share in books, it would be either Apple or Google.

Google Play is not getting any traction, so I don’t see Google busting through. But Apple got serious with its operating system finally and included iBooks as a stand alone app instead of making the reader jump through hoops on iTunes (where half of them probably bought the new Adele song instead!)

If Apple could just swallow their ginormous pride for one second and make an Android app for iBooks, imagine what could happen. Apple…are you listening?

I think a number of McLean’s prediction are highly unlikely, but this one is virtually impossible.

As I explained in the comment section, Apple simply doesn’t care enough about iBooks to give Amazon a run for its money.

And why should Apple care?

Apple reported $51 billion in revenues in its last quarterly report, and ebooks weren’t even called out as a category (but were instead bundled under "Services"). eBooks are a tiny fraction of the company’s overall revenues and is dependent on a backward-looking industry

Speaking of the industry, at least six major publishers (the Big Five and HMH) now have agency deals. That’s what, half of the market locked down with price controls?

There’s not a whole lot left to fight over. Sure, Apple could make a play for indies, but before they can do that they would have to make it easier to upload to iBooks.

Right now authors have to have a Mac or use a distributor, because both iBooks Author and iTunes Producer are still OSX only.

Someone let me know when we can upload to iBooks with just a web browser, because that will be the first sign that Apple cares about ebooks.

And yes, it will be the very first sign that Apple cares to compete in ebooks, or did you forget just how happy Apple was to go agency six years ago?

Apple wanted an ebookstore six years ago, yes, but they didn’t care about competing on price or availability (hence no Android app, no Windows app, and a crappy OSX app).

Apple only wanted iBooks because it would boost device sales. Content sales were secondary, and nothing Apple has done in the past six years would make me change my mind.

images by Hernan Piñeraeuthman

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Laurie McLean January 11, 2016 um 1:55 pm

I have seen some action by Apple’s iBooks team to reach out to authors and increase their sales through marketing initiatives. That, coupled with Apple’s inclusion of iBooks in the OS, gives me hope that Apple may make a run for more market share instead of just conceding the entire ebook market to Amazon. Only time will tell, Nate, but the only companies I can see that even have a chance of challenging Amazon are Apple and Google. And yesterday when I asked an audience of authors I was presenting to who among them had even used Google Play, not one hand in 100 went up. So, I hope Apple’s iBooks department will get its act together and I do see progress. Whether it’s enough to make even a dent in Amazon’s force field is yet to be seen. I’m not willing to count them out yet. Go to for all my predictions.

Anne January 11, 2016 um 2:36 pm

Granted this is anecdotal, applies to readers only and is a small sample size- all the few Apple fans I know IRL use Amazon for the purchasing/reading of ebooks except one who uses kobo. SIL did pick up one of the enhanced Harry Potter books and declared it a waste of money but admitted that she might feel differently if it were her first Harry Potter purchase.

I know no one that uses Google Play for books/reading and I’m estimating that android is a 10 to 1 favorite over Apple in my little circle.

What I’m thinking is that if neither Apple or Google are making inroads with the readers I know, why would I expect either to make inroads with authors?

I don’t agree with other points McLean makes but at least she seems to be paying attention and appears willing to reinvent her job and stay relevant. Very few agents seem to do that these days.

jjj January 11, 2016 um 6:15 pm

The right play might be a "bored" app or button.
The goal being to get to know the users and when the bored button gets pressed,you push content the user might like. All kinds of content , there is no need to split video, audio, books , games in different services. What type of media wins doesn’t matter to w/e provides the service and they win in all markets not just 1. Step 2 would be Google Now integration and there is no need to press the bored button anymore.
For w/e reason content discovery is always focused on 1 type of media, makes no sense.

Mackay Bell January 11, 2016 um 10:19 pm

There’s no reason for Apple to compete head on with Amazon for straight forward ebooks. IOS already has a good Kindle app, and it’s in Amazon’s interest to make sure it stays as good as possible.

Apple usually approaches this kind of thing by going around the market leader. (Steve Jobs called it an aikido move.) They couldn’t beat Windows in desk top systems so they focused on mobile. They can’t beat Google on internet search, so they are moving search into apps.

I think their long term focus is going is on enhanced ebooks and iBooks Author. They’ve steadily made improvements to that and I think the new enhanced Harry Potter stuff is where they want to go.

Their main goal is to sell hardware. IBooks Author makes it easy to create enhanced ebooks that only work on iPads. So they sell computers to create the enhanced ebooks and also iPads that are best to read them.

But… I’m sure you’ll say Nate, enhanced ebooks don’t really sell much and it’s only a tiny piece of the market. I don’t think Apple cares about that. They don’t want to sell ebooks to people who read them on their Android tablets. They want to give people an extra reason to buy an iPad. Maybe it’s not the only reason, but if there are some cool iBooks Author only enhanced books, it might provide another motivation.

Everyone keeps going back to the days when Apple made their iPod software available for Windows. Yes, that was a great strategy back when Apple was in desperate straights. But now it is approaching over 50% of smartphone market share in the US and growing around the world. They can afford to ignore Android readers.

There’s a lot of college level educational materials being created in iBooks Author, and even if just sells a few thousand more iPads, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Apple to make it easy for indies to upload ebooks directly to iBooks (you can already do that with Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital). Apple’s push for the next few years is going to be to get indies to embrace iBooks Author and take advantage of all the bells and whistles in that.

fjtorres January 12, 2016 um 8:04 am

It is a specsheet item, not a strategic line of business.
It doesn’t have to be great or even competitive, just not an embarrassment; kinda like the speakers on a cheap tablet. 🙂

The same applies to Google Play Books and used to apply to Nook from the MS point of view. Which is why MS dumped Nook.

Syn January 12, 2016 um 8:48 am

Amazon constantly updates. If enhanced books turn out to be a wanted feature, they’ll add it and probably do it better. Right now I’m just pleased as punch my Echo can read my Kindle books to me.

Nate Hoffelder January 12, 2016 um 10:45 am

@ Syn

The thing is, Amazon already has a couple different types of enhanced ebooks, and they’re not selling very many. So no, I don’t see this as a serious market.

Mackay Bell January 14, 2016 um 2:58 am

I agree it’s not a huge market, but I think that’s the market Apple will focus on trying to take over in the next few years, if only to grab the university self-publishing crowd and children’s books.

Amazon has a problem chasing enhanced ebooks. First, they don’t have good software for creating it, and software in general isn’t their strength (it is Apple’s). But more importantly, they sell a lot of black and white readers, and their color readers come in a lot of different resolutions and screen sizes. Formatting graphics to accommodate all their formats is harder than for iPads and iPhones which scale in a somewhat more logical way. Amazon’s comics book creation software is not very good (at least yet). Someone focused on creating for Kindles also has to consider whether it’s worth abandoning the black and white side of the market. (Which is why my first graphic book, for the Kindle, focuses on black and white drawings.)

Certainly, if Apple does succeed in creating some interest in enhanced ebooks, Amazon will respond, but I think Apple has an easier path at this particular moment. And if they continue to grow their iPhone business, it could be a meaningful market for creators to target.

Richard Ure January 29, 2016 um 6:36 pm

As an early and continuing iPad user, I would not buy an iPad for book reading alone so, in my view, to see iPad sales as driven by iBooks is to miss the point. Except possibly for early education, in which case, kids will have pestered for one for other reasons (Youtube anyone?).

If I were a student again, I would prefer to do my serious reading/study on a desktop, so I am glad there is an OSX version of iBooks. I use a portable device for leisure reading…and a Kindle at that for enhanced portability.

Recently I have been reading . Some of the houses have been renovated and have changed hands over the years. Many of the pictures are, by today’s standards, poor black and white. If ever there was a type of book that could profit from being updatable and enhanced with more current photographs, it is one like this.

This will not enhance iBookstore’s market share in 2016, but when it comes to opening a new market of specialist publishing, I believed enhanced books are the next gratefully received thing and a development of Steve Jobs’ democratisation of computers vision.

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