It’s Time for Apple to Show iBooks Some Love

3 minute read
| The Back Page

Daniel Steinberg has a great piece on iBooks at his Dim Sum Thinking blog titled “I Wish Apple Loved Books.” He makes the case that Apple doesn’t love iBooks, and that it shows in the way the company has largely let its ebook store languish. He hit the nail on the head—what we’ve seen (not) happen to iBooks is what we’ve seen every time an Apple product stopped being the focus of top executives.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while. I love iBooks, and I think it offers a better reading experience on my iPad than Kindle. By a lot. It’s not even close. But Apple hasn’t been giving iBooks the love it needs to thrive. And the truth is, this started with the DOJ’s successful antitrust suit against Apple.

Since Steve Jobs came back to Apple—and since his untimely passing in 2011—Apple has shown that any product or service that’s not important to the top leadership will languish, fall by the wayside, and eventually get dumped.

What I think happened with iBooks is that executives were furious with the DOJ’s obscene pursuit of Apple in the face of Amazon’s predatory monopoly in the ebook space. That fury, and the controls imposed on Apple in the wake of its conviction, naturally sapped interest in ebooks. There are plenty of things for Apple’s tiny leadership team to focus on, and iBooks just isn’t getting the love.

iBooks Strengths

There are a number of ways where iBooks is a great ebook platform. The number one is reading experience. From page turning to page numbers to highlighting and notes to general interface, iBooks beats Kindle on iPad hands down.

Apple has also done a great job with enhanced versions of popular books. The Song of Ice and Fire and the Harry Potter series have both gotten some enhanced love. On the other hand, Apple needs more enhanced editions. At the same time, if there already are more such enhanced iBooks, Apple needs to do a better job of promoting that.

A Feast for Crows Enhanced Edition on iBooks

A Feast for Crows Enhanced Edition on iBooks

iBooks is also great when it comes to managing my library. I can easily decide which devices get auto-downloads, and I can shop on whichever device works best for me. Amazon does a good job of making Kindle books available, but the company’s device management sucks butt. Big butt.

Lastly, I enjoy Apple’s iBooks promo emails. They’re gorgeous and enticing. The company’s sales and book collections are good, too, but I’d like to see more of them.

iBooks Store Sucks for Self-Publishing

The absolute biggest weakness iBooks has is that it’s not a good platform for self publishers. No, that’s not strong enough. iBooks is a terrible platform for self publishers. For every author—fiction or non-fiction—who uses or likes iBooks—there are dozens who hate it, don’t bother with it, or worse, don’t even think about it.

For instance, Mr. Steinberg mentioned that iBooks Author has languished. And it has. It makes beautiful books, but it’s a pain in the ass to use. I’ve experienced this myself, and I’ve heard other people complain about it, too.

Just this week I spoke to a teacher who told me her private school had abandoned iBooks for an epub platform. They did so in part because iBooks Author wasn’t meeting their needs. And while I’m mentioning that, said move had the ancillary effect of the school allowing Surface devices in for their 1:1 student/device initiative. No longer being tied to iBooks for content created by the school meant that students didn’t need to be tied to iPads.

That’s just one story, but I’m fairly confident that at this moment, few people are happy with iBooks Author. And few authors care about the platform.

Daniel Steinberg also referenced reporting tools for self-publishing authors, and iBooks lags far, far behind Amazon and even third-party sites like Gum Road. I’d never heard of Gum Road, but according to Mr. Steinberg, that’s a better platform for self publishing than iBooks. Come on, Apple.

It is imperative that Apple make iBooks the premier platform for self-publishing. Apple should have the best publishing tools, the best reporting, and the best promotional tools for the growing legions of self-publishing authors out there.

Shopping for iBooks

Shopping on iBooks is another place that needs improving. I’ve often found it hard to find every book by an author. iBooks does a bad job of mixing in second-language versions of a book in with English versions. It’s not that I don’t think other languages should get love, but Apple needs to give us better ways to sort iBooks. By series, by date, by title, by language, by rating…come on, Apple!

Where are my sorting options?

Where are my sorting options?

Big Picture

Selling ebooks isn’t particularly easy. Goodness knows. And I’m not arguing that Apple has forgotten iBooks entirely, but it is languishing. It needs an evangelist with the power to do what needs to be done to make iBooks great. It doesn’t have to be the biggest ebook platform, but it needs to be the best. And that includes catering to self-publishing authors.

I’m personally invested in iBooks, and I don’t want to see it get iWorked/iLifed/AirPorted/Displayed/Mac Proed. Unfortunately, there’s no magic button to flip to make Tim Cook and Phil Schiller care more about its success, but I hope they find that caring anyway.

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. Since Steve Jobs came back to Apple—and since his untimely passing in 2011—Apple has shown that any product or service that’s not important to the top leadership will languish, fall by the wayside, and eventually get dumped.

    This supports the idea that Apple needs a restructuring. This one line top down management form worked when Apple made just computers. It does not work with a multi platform company. Apple needs to restructure into a group of sub equal companies, each focussed on their product. A Mac group that has as its top priority the making the best Macs. Another group for Phones. Another group for iPads. another group for online services and stores. Finally a group who’s raison d’être is to make Apple software the best in the world. From Pages, to Photos, to Books, they would live and breathe keeping Apple software great. This would end the absurd wait while the Apple board focuses on doing something great with the iPhone and lets the Mac desktops languish. No more would Apple management be concentrating so hard on things like the Apple Watch while software gets older and more dated.

    Apple is just too big for one single management team. Multitasking requires multiple teams running multiple companies. Apple needs to follow the structure of General Electric, or General Dynamics.

  2. I agree with the basic premise of this article, but disagree with many of the points the author makes. Apple screwed up royally with its behind-closed-door pricing agreements with the publishers–specifically to close out Amazon: this was predatory monopolistic behavior in the classic 19th century sense. No matter how you try to set up Amazon as the bad guy here, it’s simply not going to work in this case. In an open market society, Amazon is at liberty to set its prices according to its own markets (and customers).

    And in any case, I highly doubt Apple walked away being offended from this legal slap in the face, this is not the reason why iBooks has languished. iBooks is having problems because Apple has completely acquiesced to publisher pricing for ebooks, making their products too expensive for high-volume consumption. Apple didn’t learn from its success with iTunes, where Jobs was able to force the hand of music publishers in setting prices.

    It’s not hard for consumers like me to do comparison shopping, and to see that Amazon has a much larger selection, and almost always lower prices, than Apple’s iBook Store. I’m a huge Apple fan, and would much prefer buying from them, but Amazon is simply doing a *much* better job making Kindle a superior platform. The author of this article is also mostly wrong about touting the technical superiority of iBooks, that’s simply not the case. iBooks does a *much* poorer job consistently synchronizing between Apple devices, for example.

    Like the Siri vs Alexa debate, Apple is flat out losing to Amazon with ebooks, and the numbers show this. As long as Apple acts as a passive servant to publisher demands, their iBook platform will languish. They either need to pull *way* ahead of Amazon in terms of being a superior product with iBooks, or they will need to have to buck the publisher stranglehold on exorbitant pricing.

  3. iBooks does a bad job of mixing in second-language versions of a book in with English versions.

    As far as I know from my author’s experience, this is not Apple’s intention. iBooks Store does not have a built-in translation engine for search terms—which would be nice in some cases actually.
    The mixing in second-language versions is taking place only because of keywords that tricky authors use to describe their books.
    But you are absolutely right, there is definite lack of sorting options on iBooks Store. And there is no suitable workflow to sell bilingual books, for instance.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Bryan, it’s a good article.

  4. In response to renaldo:

    It’s not hard for consumers like me to do comparison shopping, and to see that Amazon has a much larger selection, and almost always lower prices, than Apple’s iBook Store. I’m a huge Apple fan, and would much prefer buying from them, but Amazon is simply doing a *much* better job making Kindle a superior platform.

    This is not actually true. I cannot set the price £0.49 on my small books for kids on Amazon, they should be at least £1.49 ‘due of operational costs’. But I can do it on iBooks Store.
    Also online preview for the Kindle Edition displayed incorrectly, compare with clean screenshots on iBooks Store.

  5. Nice article, Bryan, with a lot of great points. Even as the iBooks Store has languished and Apple has not fully seized the opportunity presented with iBooks Author, it hasn’t stopped adoption for iBA to grow. This year’s iBooks Author Conference (October 12-13 in Nashville) is keynoted by NASA (which uses iBooks Author quite a bit, including for the recent Destination: Jupiter multi-touch book) and our newest sponsor is Southwest Airlines (which uses iBooks Author across their company, to create internal training curriculum they call “Southwest Airlines University.”). So there’s still plenty of action, as iBooks Author remains best-in-class digital publishing software.

    Still, we need more – as you wrote, we need a true evangelist taking control of iBooks and iBooks Author who has the power to affect change within the organization.

    Check out our response piece to Daniel Steinberg’s original article here as well: I Wish Apple Loved Books, Too. It’s great this conversation is going on, and has become as loud as it has.

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