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.
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.
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!
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.