Ereader app users

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.


  1. I use the Kindle app for reading on my iPad, I never even compare prices. But my main reason is that I have a Kindle and the pages sync up to where I left off, so if I get an iPad book I can’t read it on the go (since I don’t take my iPad everywhere).

    The exception is the occasional free iBook (which I never read since it’s not on my Kindle) and some iPad only interactive books.

  2. I use ShuBook on my iPhone and I manage all of my eBooks in Calibre. I once tried the iBook app but didn’t like it so I deleted it. I’ve never bought anything from the iBook store – when it first became available for New Zealand buyers the eBooks were expensive and there wasn’t much content available. I’ve never bothered to look again. I’ve bought less than 50 eBooks from Amazon and don’t use the app on my iPhone.

  3. I use iBooks all the time; I find the onscreen display, user interface, and note-taking capabilities vastly superior to the other ebook apps I’ve tried. (Especially Kindle, which started out with clunky usability and horrendous fonts.) But the default strong DRM on the iBooks Store means I almost never buy ebooks there; I mostly buy ebooks elsewhere and then load them into iBooks.

  4. When I was still regularly using my first-generation iPad, I used iBooks on it, simply because it had a nice interface, was easy to read, and read EPUB. But I never purchased one single e-book from the iBooks store.

  5. You’re right Chris. I suspect Apple doesn’t quite realize that a retailing system that worked for music isn’t quite suited for ebooks. People have almost always listening to music in its entirety before they buy it. Not so with books. Typically, they’re buying it because they’ve never read it. That means they need to be sold differently.

    And while you can get to a webpage about a book in the iBookstore without their iBooks app, it’s not the same as Amazon’s more open book world. I’m delighted that Apple isn’t playing Amazon nasty game of puffing favored books (mostly Amazon exclusives) and hiding the rest. But in a sense the iBookstore is like a walled garden. Books you find there aren’t quite exposed to the lively give and take of comments, both good and bad, those on Amazon.

    I do wish there were better ways to give books visibility that isn’t dictated by retailers. For authors, maintaining a website for their books can be an added burden they don’t want. Only a few days ago I revised my website. It was so dated, it still centered on my role in the Google Book Settlement fuss years back. Now it points to a page that’s actually useful for potential readers, with information about all my books but the latest, and on webpages hosted by Adobe. It’s still not all it should because of limitations with Adobe’s web services. But Adobe just announced that will change and that they’re have a Portfolio package that’ll be simple to create but look good on all platforms.

    That’ll take care of most of those big on quality, creative products, but that’s not enough. There should already be a one-stop, author/publisher managed website that’s good enough every book creator finds it worth using. At the time of the Google books settlement mess, I tried to get Google to do that to no available. They were only willing to do that if, as part of the process, they could bypass copyright law and create a Google only-search engine of scanned texts. Such a database was actually part of the settlement. But going for too much meant they got almost nothing.

    Instead, we have a lop-sided market where one retailer, Amazon, is where people go to look for books. And having gone there, they often buy there, creating a book market increasingly dominated by one retailer. That’s certainly not good, but we have to keep in mind that, for book searching, there’s little alternative for would-be readers.

  6. I was pleased to read Michael W. Perry’s comment today about Apple still not having a clue about how poor iTunes is for distributing ebooks. My experience is that you can’t fit publication information to their Procrustean bed derived from record-album cataloging.

  7. I’d add to John Maroney’s remarks that the deficiency is deeply embedded in Apple’s corporate DNA. Jobs, Cook and many of the others in upper management are products of the 1970s. They turn to music to make sense of life rather than books, either non-fiction or literature. That’s a pattern that’s constantly changing from generation to generation. In the late 19th and early 20th century, people often turned to poetry for answers, an approach that’s almost unimaginable today. Later it was novels of various sorts. Many people today still find their meaning there, constantly reading in one genre.

    That embedded bias at Apple explains its free (and initially forced) giveaway of a Bono album a few years back. Apple’s upper management thought that others found meaning where they found meaning, in the music of a few key musicians. The idea, as silly as it was, was well-meant. They thought they were being helpful.

    That obsession with a few key musicians as life prophets even explains what might be called the Bono Hypocrisy at Apple. That’s making great and ego-inflating demands about what governments and society ought to do about this social problem or that while at the same time accumulating great wealth by using every trick available to a giant business or music group like U2 (but not a small business) to evade the taxes that would pay for those demands.

    You see that in other areas too. As many have pointed out, Apple’s chattering about ‘Think Different’ isn’t matched by any corporate policy supporting individual free-expression. The company is as eager to do business with a one-party dictatorship like China or with repressive Arab regimes as it is with democracies. Its money clearly does not rest anywhere near where its mouth is.

    The reason is that music as a guide to life is shallow and limited in content, making hypocrisy easy. In the case of rock music, it’s also self-obsessed, making ego-inflating and elitist statements like ‘think different’ possible. Picasso, one of those glorified in the remarks Jobs liked, hasn’t improved the world. The very opposite is true. His art is so ugly, it hasn’t be copied. He was such a cruel jerk, two of the more significant women in his life were driven to suicide and the third only escaped that by dumping him.

    In short, not finding any meaning in books themselves, many in Apple’s upper management can’t see any value in books other than as yet another way to sell iPads. That’s the problem. It may also be why iBooks hasn’t been ported to other platforms but iTunes was.

    Note the differences:

    * Amazon devalues books by seeing them just as a way to make money and championing cheaper is better. It has no interest in books as sources of meaning but it has enough interest in books as a source of income that its sales platform works.

    *Apple devalues books by only thinking of them as something pretty. That’s why iBooks displays books marvelously, but the iBookstore is an incredibly poor way to search for books. For Apple, books are decorative things. Note the emphasis at the iBookstore, which I like, on displaying sample pages just as they look. But note that there is no emphasis on books as a source of ideas, of beliefs or of meaning in life. For Apple’s upper management, books are decorative and no more. For them, you turn to music for meaning, particularly rock music.

    That also explains why Apple has spent huge sums of money enhancing music formatting but almost nothing since OS X 10.2 improving the built-in text tools of OS X. It’s operating system still treats word processing as if WordStar, circa 1982, were the ultimate in that technology. And OS X’s built-in speller checker is so awful, it’d shame a word processing program from the mid-1980s. Roughly half the time, it offers me no suggestion for my misspelled word. Put that same word into a Google search and Google, about 98% of the time, will hit on the correct spelling with one “did you mean” response. That wastes a lot of user’s time.

    [Stage Direction: Gets of soapbox. Picks up soapbox and walks away, muttering and gesturing wildly.]

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