Following my previous post on App Annie’s tracking of the most popular iOS apps of all time, one reader pointed out that this was no guide to ereader popularity on the iPhone or iPad, since iOS devices came with iBooks bundled anyway. Any competing ereader software, excepting possibly Kindle, is therefore off to a poor start in the iOS walled garden, since Apple has already bundled one of the best for the system, linked to its own bookstore. So how popular is iBooks?
In a 2013 presentation, Mark Coker at Smashwords claims “over 150 million iBooks apps downloaded” since the software’s launch in 2010. (Coker doesn’t explain how exactly this equates with the bundling of iBooks, but we’ll take that as one possible benchmark figure for now.) He also claims that as of 2012, Apple is the #2 worldwide ebook seller. Coker also said in that presentation that “Apple wants to do for digital books what they did for digital music – become #1.” That ambition’s probably on hold now with Amazon’s rise to ever-greater market supremacy, and as Coker notes, Apple’s policy of not putting iBooks apps onto Android or any other platform obviously limits iBooks’ potential audience, especially in the light of Android’s predominant global market share. And Apple’s policy of preventing in-app book purchases in the iOS Kindle app doesn’t seem to be winning it any friends – or readers. (Quote: “I hate that Apple is making my iPhone less useful to make itself richer.”)
In the UK, The Bookseller’s Digital Census, released in November 2014 and based on replies from around 1000 respondents, concluded that: “More than two-thirds (71.0%) of all Census respondents say they buy e-books regularly from Amazon—more than five times as many as do so frequently from the next most popular e-retailer, Apple’s iBookstore (13.4%).” Other research, quoted in “The Global eBook Report” released by Rudiger Wischenbart in 2014, states that “overall, between the launch of the iBookstore in June 2011, and October 2012, Apple may have sold some 270 million ebooks,” and court declarations from summer 2013 by Apple executive Keith Moerer are cited to show “Apple’s market share at around 20% for 2011, when the iBookstore was launched, as well as for for later periods.” Not far off the UK figure.
In a 2014 study on “Mobile Phone eBook Reading” by Publishing Technology, research was served up to show that anywhere between 31 percent and 42 percent of ereaders (depending if you’re in the UK or US) were using iBooks to read on their mobile phones – if, of course, they read on them in the first place. Over at The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder quotes Apple intel from early 2015 in the shape of Keith Moerer – again – stating that iBooks has hit 1 billion downloads, with 1 million more readers added per month since September 2014. Moerer didn’t clarify this ambiguity over what counts as downloads, mind, though Hoffelder suspects that those new readers are actual, well, readers.
In March 2015, Apple’s Tim Cook put the total number of iPhones sold to date at 700 million. In October 2014, Apple announced that it had sold 225 million iPads to date. That means that, curiously, Moerer has been claiming that more copies of iBooks have been downloaded than iOS mobile devices have ever been sold, although of course downloads to Macs could account for much of that.
Still, a billion-plus potential readers is a pretty large audience. However, Statista’s latest figures on Amazon give the number of active Amazon user accounts as 270 million, and the Kindle’s market share as 73.3 percent. Phone reading may be on the rise, but given the past figures on actual phone usage, I’m willing to bet that phone ereading only accounts for some 10 percent at best of mobile phone usage. That would put iBooks readers on iPhones at least at around 70 million? Sounds more reasonable than Moerer’s figures anyway. However, if anyone else has more accurate data points, I’ll be interested to hear from them.