Book biz starting to see iPhone’s promise for e-reading: NonDRMed copyrighted ePub books to benefit next?

image Ficbot and Chris Meadows aren't the only ones seeing promise in the iPhone/Touch for e-reading.

Both the MediaBistro Galley Cat blog and TheBookSeller have just run items---here and here. Our buddies at The Cat are looking for people who read on the iPhone, and I very much hope you can help 'em out.

My own answer to the related "How many?" question would be, "Very few within the book biz itself, but lots of potential here."

Looking beyond the people in the book biz

For the bigger picture, The Cat might check out iPhone siphoning off Kindle buyers, says Fictionwise and eReader iPhone/Touch app after a month: On 130,000 devices, with 35,000 owners buying e-books for that platform. As of August, moreover, Stanza had claimed 85,000 users.

These iPhone apps are hardly going to destroy the Kindle. But the numbers, at such an early stage, show the risks of the book business becoming too Kindle-centric.

Updates, please, Steve and Marc

And now? I'd love to hear from Steve Pendergrast at Fictionwise and Marc Prud'hommeaux, the Stanza developer---what are the very latest stats. My guess, nothing more, is that the number of people who've downloaded books for the iPhone/Touch might even be north of 500,000 or at least getting there.

Stanza, as I write this, is #33 among the top free apps showing up on within my iTunes store here in the States, and it might be doing even better elsewhere. Hello, Hadrien? What's the latest from France?

Given all the millions of iPhones out there, the number could represent a nice niche, even if few people in the book business itself are reading off phones right now.

Turning readers into customers

For publishers and retailers, the challenge will be to turn readers into customers. I continue to believe that nonDRMed ePub, which works great with Stanza, offers the most promise for the iPhone and other mobile platforms.

Tech keeps changing, especially in the mobile phone area. Standards are the best way for the book business to keep up. Any tech barrier for customers is a sales barrier.

Remember, Android is just around the bend—-but, frustratingly, we don’t even have Mobipocket for the iPhone yet. It’s not due until the end of the year. Think of all the lost sales for authors and publishers. Do we want this to happen whenever a new platform hits?

Even before Mobi comes out…

The good news is that if iPhone/Touch e-book sales are comin’ along with Stanza and eReader, just wait until Mobi finally catches up.

The what’s-most-popular issue: The hits keep changing. The Cat discovered that Moby Dick and The Prince were top downloads as displayed on Stanza.

When I checked just now, however, within the Feedbooks collection, the hits were 1984 (a legal download in many countries but not in the Bono-hobbled States, at least technically) and The Art of War (public domain). Please note these are Feedbooks stats rather than for Stanza users alone.

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14 Comments on Book biz starting to see iPhone’s promise for e-reading: NonDRMed copyrighted ePub books to benefit next?

  1. Stanza is currently #30 in the French AppStore.

    Here’s a few other popular apps to compare (I’m listing apps that are constantly in the top, not for example games that usually end up in the first spots but just for a few weeks):

    #15 Shazam
    #17 Flashlight
    #21 Remote
    #22 Facebook

    #34 Tap Tap Revenge
    #37 Palringo
    #40 Brain Tuner

    So, Stanza is between Tap Tap Revenge and Facebook’s popularity.

  2. Your wish is my command, here’s an update!

    As of the end of August eReader had been installed on just under a quarter million iPhone/iPod touch devices. Over 300,000 ebooks have been downloaded onto the iPhone/iTouch platforms from our store, and that does not include downloads of free books from places like Manybooks.com (for privacy reasons we don’t track anything about what people do from the app if it does not involve our own stores).

    Add in Stanza, bookshelf, and other iphone ebook offerings and it is abundantly clear that many more people are reading on the Apple devices than Kindle. There really is not even a question about it anymore. iPhone/iTouch required only about 90 days to exceed even the stratospheric end of the estimates for Kindle that Amazon themselves said were “extremely high”.

    This is not to say that Kindle won’t be an important niche player going forward. Choice is what it’s all about. Consumers who can afford a dedicated stand-alone device have a lot of options now including Kindle, and Kindle may get the lion’s share of those high-end consumers even with the many new e-ink offerings that are launching in the next few quarters.

    It’s just that there will always be many times as many consumers who find the iPhone screen “big enough” and can’t justify the extra expense of a stand-alone device. There’s just no overcoming that simple fact.

    The real story in 2009 will be iPhone vs. Android. iPhone vs. Kindle is a settled question.

    -Steve P.

  3. David, full marks for evangelism, but what ePub really needs to drive adoption is a critical mass of royalty free texts. Feedbooks is doing a great job, but it still hasn’t got anything like the entire Gutenberg corpus available yet. And Munseys is already offering ePub books for its huge library, but needs to work on some of the formatting issues (vast files with no chapter headings, anyone?). Manybooks and the various PDF sites have held the lead for other formats, for now – but it wouldn’t take much to change that. How about a handy free ePub file creator/converter, for one thing?

  4. The 2m figure for feedbooks who mainly deals in public domain works must be held against the 3m downloads Project Gutenberg gets a month, and again it’s free downloads it don’t pay anyone’s bills. That people are reading books off screens isn’t totally new.

    The deal is again the cash flow 300.000 downloads at lets say USD 15.- means a revenue of USD 4.5m borders avrenge something like USD 250m a month. I don’t have the faintest clue to what the general ebook total is, I wouldn’t be surprised is as for public domain the real market exist outside of the walled gardens of Apple and Amazon.

    Statistics can be deceptive if you dont have a solid refference frame and in this field we dont. The numbers only tell that there might be a real profit it dont tell us that the iphone is the future of ebooks.

  5. “How about a handy free ePub file creator/converter, for one thing?”

    Hi, Paul. Stay tuned for interesting things out of Feedbooks, even if it’s online rather than local.

    Meanwhile, yes, I agree with your analysis of the complications here, including the numbers issue. But consider how far ePub come from a year ago! Single-handedly Hadrien has made immense changes even if he isn’t at the PG level yet. And now the iPhone is here as an e-book platform, Android is on the way, and Stanza exists and uses ePub as a native format!

    Thanks,
    David

  6. Steve, I wonder how (or if) you are tracking new customers versus those (like me) who are using your store to download stuff they already bought? For example, I had a few multiformat books I was reading on my eBookwise and I think two secure format ereader ones that I read when I was using the Dana more regularly. One of the first things I did when I got the iPod Touch was get ereader and re-download them.

    That said, the ability to read/buy secure ereader WAS one of the deciding factors in my purchase of the iPod Touch. I love the internet freebies for their sheer quantity and availability, and knowing there will always be something to read. But more and more, I am finding that I *am* willing to pay a fair price for an e-version (so long as it is not *so* protected that I can’t be assured of its future readability. In fact, for certain types of books, it can be better for me in the long run because without the e option, I would just get a used paperback and sell it to the used bookstore when I am done. eBooks are such a breeze to store (again, so long as they are not so DRM-ed that one can’t be sure of their future readability, which was my difficulty with the ebookwise) that I don’t have to get rid of them. I can keep them forever.

    I still think plain text or unencrypted DRM is the better way. But I am heartened to hear of so many readers with large e collections dating back many years. And even if 20 years from now they do go bust, I’ll still have had them for longer than I would a read-and-sell paperback version. I have my price point though. I will not pay hardcover prices for an e-book!

  7. To create good looking ePub files, you need a human somewhere in the process. I don’t believe that you can create good looking books in ePub if you mass-convert ASCII from PG.

    My goal with Feedbooks is to provide a platform where anyone can contribute to this ask and easily add public domain books. The average book takes 10-15mn to add to Feedbooks, and once it’s online it’s available in every format supported by Feedbooks. It’s also constantly upgraded to provide an optimal output.

    I also believe that the current problem with public domain books isn’t the size of the catalog: it’s how you can browse the catalog and get recommendations. There’s a lot of books that will never be popular on PG for this reason: it lacks this sort of things. I’ll be working on this too…

  8. “How about a handy free ePub file creator/converter, for one thing?”

    The latest version of Calibre includes the command line tool any2epub. Supported input formats are: [‘html’, ‘rar’, ‘zip’, ‘fb2’, ‘mobi’, ‘prc’, ‘lit’, ‘rtf’, ‘pdf’, ‘txt’]. As these converters (any2epub, comic2epub and feeds2epub) mature, they will be integrated in to the GUI.

  9. I agree, Hadrien. The PG catalogue is a wonderful, e-world-altering resource, but it’s so…functional. It’s massive. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to find new stuff. I would love to see the PG catalogue run through something like the amazon.com interface, with plot summaries and ‘people who liked this book also liked…’ type stuff. That takes more than just programming, though—it takes community building and having people willing to read, review and post comments. So far, Stanza for “i” devices is the closest I have found to that—colour cover out, and recommended reading lists to start you off.

  10. Well the reading lists, covers and descriptions are all from Feedbooks. Actually we already have a “similar books” feature too and also “customized recommendations” based on your previous downloads.

    Things will improve once you can log in to Feedbooks from Stanza too.

  11. Thanks, Hadrien. I am new to Feedbooks because I only just got my Touch. Before that, I was using manybooks.net because it had some different formats. I like both sites. I think what is missing for me is plot descriptions. There are just SO MANY titles, even a one-or-two line blurb will help. Now that I am e-reading more, I plan to update my blog again and post some reviews. I wish there was one central place people could post reviews instead of having to go to several different sites to read them.

  12. It’s supported, I’ll add an easy way for people to suggest descriptions if they’re missing too.

  13. > To create good looking ePub files, you need a
    > human somewhere in the process.
    It certainly is possible to make good looking ePub files automatically, but Hadrien is right with regards to the PG ASCII books.

    The automation is easy when you have your books marked up in a nice structured format such as XML, but PG doesn’t – and basically refuses to do so.

    I’ve written a Perl script to convert PG ASCII to TEI XML, but as the original PG files are vastly inconsistent there is always some manual work needed, which of course slows down the whole process.

    I’m currently working to setup epubbooks.com to provide converted PG books in the ePub format, which will have all the niceties of well formatted chapter headings, linked footnotes, and so forth. Once the site is live I can then concentrate on pushing up the size of the catalogue.

    As soon as ‘conversion’ becomes the core task I will be able to pump out new books (excluding ones with images) at 2-10 minutes per book. As I spend more time in this process, I should be able to fine tune the script and reduce the amount of manual work needed.

  14. Once we open the API for the publishing feature you could also use your script to send books on Feedbooks and therefore rely on a partially automatic, partially crowdsourced solution.

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