A few facts to begin with: Apple’s App Store started in 2008 (at that time for iPhone 3GS and iPod) and since 2010 the App Store is also available on the iPad. One of its biggest categories is ‘books’. Since 2010 there is an iBookstore as well.
What’s the difference and how does that make me feel?
For us, in the Netherlands, making a distinction between these two was very simple. Text e-books were sold on the iBookstore, everything else went to the App Store. As we make digital children’s books, we made apps for the App Store, not e-books for the iBookstore.
I'll have to explain this. Normal e-books don’t have a fixed layout. It is possible to alter the font size for instance. But by doing so, you also alter the layout of the page and because children’s books always have illustrations, these pages turn out looking horrible. The proper combination of text and illustrations, so important in these books, is gone.
But with the invention of ePub3, one could make e-books with fixed layout. Apple was the first to support this on iPhone and iPad. Yes, one could even insert video, audio and some interaction and use Apple’s own program iBook Author to make these e-books.
There’s a thin line between e-books and book apps.
An enhanced e-book has more features than the more simple book apps we sometimes used to make. So now we too, could choose whether we wanted to make an e-book for the iBookstore or an app for the App Store. And our choice was based on the expected return on investment. The costs to produce an enhanced e-book are lower than those for making an average book app. And not every digital children’s book needs all the bells and whistles. In fact sometimes it’s better not to have too many features to distract the child’s concentration.
So since September 2012 we started selling e-books with a fixed layout in the iBookstore, most of them with audio and interactivity. And the first results weren’t bad. We sold more of our e-books on the iBookstore than on any other e-book store. And it also seemed that consumers were willing to spend a little more money on e-books than they do on book apps.
So am I happy with the iBookstore? No, and here’s why:
1. It is no longer me who decides which store I will choose, Apple is.
Since a couple of months Apple's demands are as follows: If the features in your digital book are possible on the iBookstore, the book must be sold there.
2. After almost three years the iBookstore is still very much unknown. Every week people ask us where some of our digital books can be found, as they couldn’t find them in the book category on the App Store. They don't even know about the other store.
These two points don’t really relate to each other. Apple demands that you sell in the iBookstore instead of the App Store but doesn’t do anything to make the iBookstore better known. Apple’s lack of interest is obvious when you consider that the App Store app is default on iOS devices while the iBookstore isn’t and has to be downloaded from… the App Store. Please Apple. How difficult can it be to solve this?
It is as if Apple is refusing to sell your books in a busy shopping mall and instead sends you to an obscure shop in a factory area where nobody will find you. And as a publisher you’re not only supposed to promote your book, but also the store.
10 to 30 times as many books sold on the App Store.
I found it difficult to quantify the problem, but recently I read this article. US iPad publisher Open Air tells us about selling its digital books in both the iBookstore and the App Store. The figures show that the App Store sells 10 to 30 times more books than the iBookstore. Even when a book was featured on the iBookstore and not on the App Store, that ratio remained the same. Open Air too, blames this result on the fact that the iBookstore is little known and not default on iPad and iPhone. In a comment on this article Carisa Kluver, founder and CEO of digital-storytime.com says: “iBookstore is a ghost town in comparison to App Store. Why shelf your books in a store with no real traffic?” I fully agree with Carisa, but it isn’t me anymore who decides in which store I want my books to be sold.
Quid pro quo, Apple. You can do so much better. Start earning your 30%.