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Apple’s recent publishing event raised many complaints about restrictive publishing rules for books created with iBooks Author application. In my opinion people don’t complain about iBooks Author or iBooks 2. The weak part is somewhere else – it’s the iBookstore.

I’m sure that if Amazon launched something similar to iBooks Author, not that many people would have complained about that. Kindle Store is closed (though not as closed as iBookstore), but it’s the largest and most advanced ereading ecosystem, available to users of the largest possible number of devices.

For now on, the iBookstore is the average store with overpriced books and limited access. It needs improvements (and it deserves a separate event to announce that). Changes should be made quickly, because it’s loosing ground. It never owned a lot of ground, anyway, compared to the number of eligible devices.

Here’s a list of things I need as an average reader to start shopping in the iBookstore. I’m a dedicated Apple fan, but I’ve never bought a book in Apple’s native ebookstore. If things change – I’m open to try one more time.

1. Web storefront

I’m a Mac/iPad/iPhone user but I rarely use iTunes. It’s the application which I associate with cables and waiting. Waiting for the content to be synced between iTunes and the iPad/iPhone or waiting for the update to be installed. I can accept using iTunes when it comes to unique content.

Books are not unique to iBookstore. They can be found anywhere else. I’m an online user, and the only thing I need is the web browser.

Why there is no web storefront for iBookstore is pretty easy to explain. Apple think they will have enough traffic from iOS users anyway. Plus while they keep their store closed, it’s much more difficult to learn how big is the offer and how low – or high – are the prices.

I use Google to find interesting data in the iBookstore, and if you want, you’ll find anything. The iBookstore doesn’t have a web storefront, but it does have data available for search engines, so there is no point in hiding anything any longer.

I wonder how much traffic they would have, if they opened a web storefront and made their books available for purchase from a web browser, as well as make their offer comparable with other ebookstores. It would definitely help the market, because Apple would have to make their content more competitive.

2. Better search

When I published my books in the iBookstore (via Smashwords), I was not able to find them by searching neither iBooks nor iTunes. I  knew that they were there, I checked it with Google.

Search is the key disappointment iBookstore brings. It’s very slow, returned results are odd, their number is limited and it’s actually not possible to limit search to books only. Searching here is about trying new key phrases again and again and going through the list of results until you find what you’re looking for.

It’s OK with apps, because apps are a completely new experience and users rely on recommendations like what sells best. Books are not new and are not only in the iBookstore. People want to find them quickly, especially that they already know what they want to buy.

3. Better recommendation tools

Everyone who browsed for items in iTunes knows that this marketplace is built around the idea of simple recommendation lists, like New & Notable,Top Charts or Recent Bestsellers. It’s OK if someone wants to buy a book other people read, but it’s not OK in case of more advanced personal preferences.

Kindle Store is the ultimate example of how the marketplace should function. You can get personal recommendations on the basis of the browsing history, you can find user lists with similar books, “customers who bought” and “other items to consider” display relevant books.

It takes some time to learn about all the possibilities of Kindle Store, but the moment you start using them is the moment you neglect any other place which doesn’t offer similar possibilities.

4. Better localization options

iBookstore is available to users in 30+ countries and the localization done right could have brought a lot of positive feedback.

The localization is not only about translating the user interface, but about adjusting the content to users in the particular country. There is no such thing in the iBookstore. There is no way to search books by language, the list called  Bestsellers by Language returns many languages, but your mother tongue is not going to be on top of the list.

If Apple’s marketplace is about simplicity, just make the Swedish books dominant in the Swedish iBookstore and Polish books in the Polish one.

5. Fix format incompatibility

The reason why so many users were annoyed with restrictions for books created with iBooks Author were about access. The format plays the major role in how the system works. It’s epub, and it’s good, but the books have Apple’s proprietary formats, Fair Play and the new one, specific for iBooks Author – and it’s terrible.

That’s just too much of incompatibility. Apple don’t understand the fight is not only about which device people will buy, but also about which cloud they will use. I stick to Kindle Store, because I have the most advanced tools to access books from my personal Kindle bookshelf.

What should I need to consider iBookstore as my cloud bookshelf? Epub with no proprietary DRM. Or epub with the industry-wide system, like Adobe DRM – if there has to be one. iBookstore is one of the challengers and being open helps. People will be looking for one cloud bookshelf. The more formats the cloud will “accept” the better. If someone will want to buy an iPad, and owns a 1st gen Nook already, accepting Adobe DRM books would help him to move the ebook library to iBookstore.

Obviously, this can work the other way round, but the freedom of choice is something people will appreciate, and they will be more willing to try the new ecosystem.

* * *

iBookstore is in a position of the challenger but Apple behave like having a leading product. The result is a weak proposal for consumers. They can consider it as a back-up option, but it’s far to treat iBookstore as a default place to shop for ebooks.

Apple, be more open to readers, and readers will be more open to you. You’ll fix a lot by improving iBookstore.

[Via Ebook Friendly]


  1. I share your perplexed comments. iBooks is simply not good enough in oh so many ways.

    The only interesting aspect of this, to me, is what possible reason there can be for this ? After all there are plenty of other eBook apps on the iOS so iBook’s problems don’t really worry me as such.

    I can only surmise that there is no one in Apple, anywhere near the top of the tree, with any serious interest in the eBook market or any serious understanding of the market. For me that is the only reasonable explanation, and in my view the new ‘author’ app continues with this theme.

  2. I agree with Howard. It appears that “there is no one in Apple, anywhere near the top of the tree, with any serious interest in the eBook market or any serious understanding of the market.” This latest move seems driven mostly by a desire to sell iPads to upscale schools. You can contrast that with Amazon, which understands the ebook market quite well but wants to crush it–i.e. eliminate any effective competition. That said, I applaud Apple for creating what’s long been needed, a WYSIWYG authoring app for ebooks. And it finally, finally, gives authors an ability to control how an ebook looks–none of this reader chooses his own font silliness.

    I’d add that the biggest lack for the iBookstore is that it’s iDevice-only and in the case of this new format, iPad only. That limits its market quite a bit. If Apple seriously wants to get into the ebook market they need a Mac ebook reader, along with readers for Windows, Android smart phones and a web-based reader. If Amazon can afford to do that, then Apple, with its almost $100 billion in reserve cash, certainly can. But that would hinge on Apple really wanting the iBookstore to sell ebooks, including textbooks. I suspect the corporate leadership just sees it as a way to sell more iPads.

    And that’s the fundamental problem with ebooks right now. Every major actor has an agenda that bears little relationship to the good health and growth of the ebook market as a whole. Large publishers are terrified by the change. Apple wants to sell iPads. Amazon wants to rule the roost. Adobe is scrambling to built support for ebooks into InDesign, but isn’t quite there yet. The result is chaos and confusion.

  3. FWIW, Apple’s tools/information for publishers are similarly lacking. In order to prepare our titles for the iBookstore, we were given sample metadata files with no documentation. Apple used typical ISO/ONIX values for many fields, but in some cases they’ve filtered the lists for no apparent reason (and IMO filtering an ISO list doesn’t make sense) without saying so (we kept getting error messages upon upload for which should have been valid ISO values). On top of this, some of the sample data was self-conflicting. Finally we were able to get some documentation, but that only served to confirm how screwed-up their metadata requirements were. So I’m not surprised at this list, because it shows similar (lack of) thinking that we experienced on the metadata/content side.

  4. Thanks for this very interesting post! Your suggestions for improvement do match with the results of a survey I am currently running for my master’s thesis on E-Book Downloading behavior. Users are much more critical towards closed “ecosystems” than to open-access sources. But interestingly, it does not keep them from paying premium prices for a rather “bad” download experience.
    I invite all readers of this post to share their views on E-Book Download Sources by answering my short dissertation-questionnaire: http://www.ebooksurvey.net.
    It’s pain-free and 100% anonymous. Oh, there are vouchers to be won too 🙂

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