Monday, 16 January 2012

10 Things Apple Need to Fix with iBooks

Ahead of this week's iBooks announcements (likely around textbooks) and 2 years from the initial iBooks launch, I did a little thinking about iBooks in general and the successes and failures of the platform and the store.

First up, I have to say I'm surprised at the iBookstore's lack of success. It's impossible to get hard numbers on market share, but, reading around, and from my experience of publishing to iBooks and Kindle, I'd guess Apple has somewhere around 10% of the market. Probably less in specialised areas, maybe more in top 100 fiction titles.

Last summer I came across this graph from Asymco:
Damning, no? Their report contains some other, equally scary charts on download rates. It may not be 100% accurate, but other data, 18 months in, pointed to 180m book downloads (10m/month), which pales next to the App Stores 1bn a month.

Making the App Store 100 times bigger than the iBookstore.

So, if I was Tim Cook, giving my end of year appraisal, how would I score iBooks. Maybe a 5/10. Shows promise, hasn't delivered yet. Should have done better.

What can Apple do to fix this? Here are 10 ideas, some consumer-related, some for developers and publishers.

1. Mindshare
Despite the number of iBooks app downloads, the public do not think of either the iPad or iTunes as a book purchase/consumption channel. They're habituated into going to Amazon. Apple is probably the best tech marketing company in the world. Get on and produce some great ads that articulate what a great platform you have. Kindle is in danger of doing what Google and Hoover before them managed - becoming a verb.

2. Titles
When Random House declined to pitch in with iBooks early on, Apple just didn't have the catalogue of Amazon. That still feels like the case. Embrace more publishers, make it easy for them to come on board.

3. Learn to love self-publishers.
It's hard to self-pub on iBooks. What with ISBNs, EIN numbers, Apple IDs, tax sign-ups and what have you, self-publishers are mostly thinking "why would I jump through all these hoops just for a few more sales". What Apple is missing here is also the publicity that self-pub success stories generate for your platform. How many column-inches has Amanda Hocking generated for Kindle in the last 6 months? Make it easier for the next Hocking or Konrath.

4. Intelligence
The iBookstore doesn't currently have a high IQ. Apple must know a load about you, what with all your iTunes/iBooks purchases, but in terms of pushing appropriate content your way, all they can offer is "people who bought this...". Make it smarter.

5. Don't hide it.
iBooks still isn't a default iOS app, you have to download it. Why is that? When you load up the iTunes Store, the front page runs like this (from the top down): music; music; music/miscellaneous; music; music; films; tv programmes; miscellaneous; music. The charts on the right-hand side: singles; albums; films; tv programmes. Books just have a text drop-down menu at the top of the screen. If you want to sell more books, give them some prominence.

6. Development Tools
iTunes Producer and iTunes Connect handle iBook creation (from epubs) upload and management. There's a lot of overlap in the tools, and one's web-based and one an app, and they're both clunky. Want to run a promotion on all 32 territories for a week? Try having to change 3-4 fields for each book in each territory. I just did it for 3 books, and I actually gave up. It was so painful, and Connect was so slow, I just ran the promotion in our key territories (sorry Slovakia). The only way to create epubs from within the Apple ecosystem is also Pages, which wasn't designed for an epub3 world. Give us some great tools - if you can build iLife, this should be easy.

7. Documentation and Approval
Approval can take from 2 days to 4 weeks. You have no way of knowing which it will be when you upload. I understand the need for QA, but an indication of expected approval time would help us plan launches. And when building a book, it sometimes feels like you're playing a game to which you don't know all the rules. The documentation just isn't comprehensive enough. Sort the documentation and when a book uploads give us a status "Approval expected in 5-7 days".

8. Viewing Books in iTunes
How about allowing users to view books on their Mac (or even PC). Unless you have an iOS device (realistically an iPad), iBooks don't exist.

9. Other platforms
Or, even more radically, what about an iBooks app for Android/Windows. Buy an iBook, read it anywhere? Yeah, I know. Not going to happen #walledgarden.

10. iBooks UX
iBooks still looks like an intern designed it. The IKEA-style bookcase and the limited functionality (nothing social, nothing from iTunes) could do with a refresh.

When all's said and done, I love the experience of using an iBook, and I want iBooks to succeed. You can do things on iBooks right now that Kindle haven't even addressed in their forthcomg KF8 format. I show people the books we make and they're blown away.

So in my next post, I'm going to run through some of the things that Apple nailed with iBooks.


Justin said...


As an iBooks Author, I think you are spot on. I really enjoyed the read and your analysis.



Anonymous said...

Great post and information on iBooks and iBooks author! Thank you for sharing!