Book apps or ibooks?

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 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%.



We've published to the iBook Store for a couple of years now, and, echoing what Chris said if it's your only channel, then you're likely to have a big problem. If you're a big name author, Apple push you and/or you give away books for free you'll get the downloads. We gave away 25,000 of an iBook a while ago. But that felt like people picking up a free newspaper outside the station - happy to get it for nothing, never going to pay for it.

If Apple want publishers to embrace the iBook Store rather than the App Store, then they need to throw a lot more resource behind it. Currently there's no commercial incentive to go there, despite the huge technical lead iBA and epub3 in iBooks offer.

I wrote about the things Apple need to fix a while ago, not much has changed:

Overall though, there's just no mindshare. Kindle has become the "hoover" of the ebook world - a generic term that everyone understands. iBooks could become the Dyson. If Apple want it to.

iBook or app

<p>This article rings true, especially regarding the difficulty readers have finding books in the iBookstore. I witnessed one reader trying to buy my enhanced book, Air Quality. First they got into a loop with an Apple ID password issue. Then they couldn't find it because they needed to download the iBookstore app from the app store. When they got through that, they found AQ, but discovered they needed to download iBooks Author for iPad. This person become very frustrated. They did buy the book, but I suspect &nbsp;they would have given up had I not been there to guide then.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Apple have been very supportive and helpful to me, but I know from feedback that I have lost sales because of the hoops readers have to go through. I don't see why they can't direct traffic to the iBookstore, or why finding Air Qulailty shouldn't trigger automatic download of the iBookstore and iBooks Author. The good news is, once these apps are in place, buying the next enhanced book is easy, at one event I saw someone buy AQ in 15 seconds.</p>

Put Book Apps in the digital book stores!

susanmarywarren's picture

We'd say take it a step further and get rid of the book app category altogether and let’s compete with e-ink books in the same on-line storefronts. As it is, great enhanced digital books must compete for visibility alongside games and productivity apps, instead of the e-reading storefronts where the great majority of the book reading fan bases are

Apple's taxonomy for books is

Apple's taxonomy for books is quite weird. You've got the iTunes store with tabs for Music, Film, TV and Audiobooks but not books; the App store with a Books category; and the separate iBooks store.

It would make much more sense if iBooks wasn't a separate entity, but a special folder that included plain ebooks, enhanced ebooks and ebook apps all in one place. By all means have a tab for books in iTunes, and a category in the appstore, but have somewhere that pulls them together into one place, like Newsstand for magazines. Magazines and newspapers on iPad are at a technical level apps and appear in the app store, but get gathered together in the Newsstand folder and are in the Newsstand store.

On a tablet, it shouldn't matter to the reader whether an ebook is an epub or an app at a technical level. The ebook description should describe any interactive features, but there shouldn't be a sharp separation of interactive and non-interactive ebooks. What really matters isn't the underlying technology, but the reading experience.

iBookstore versus App Store

We are producing interactive non-fiction eBooks using the iBooks Author route and selling them in the iBookstore in 51 countries. Readers love them – if and when they find them.

We can confirm Bert's analysis: some customers don't know the iBookstore exists, and if they hear about an eBook, they look for it first on the App Store.

Apple could help by integrating the search functions between the two. So if a reader searches for an author name in the App Store, they will be shown the books available on the iBookstore.

As creative publishers, we love iBooks Author: it allows editors and designers real control and it's affordable. It allows us to break away from the flat piece of paper and do things with interactive maps and video that we merely dreamed of 25 years ago. To develop apps would put us in the hands of techies and we'd lose control.

But the business side is frustrating: the barriers to discovery of the books are real, and the numbers are discouraging. We have been at the top of the charts in various sectors – and I can only say I am sorry for the people further down the lists...

Come on Apple, make a good solution great!

Chris Foulkes, Berry Bros & Rudd Press

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