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Apple doesn’t need to maximize book sales

23 March 2016

Apple doesn’t need to maximize book sales. It simply needs to keep publishers happy enough to maintain an impressive-sounding inventory of titles while waiting for entirely new forms of publishing to develop.

Virginia Postrel


14 Comments to “Apple doesn’t need to maximize book sales”

  1. “Apple doesn’t need to maximize book sales.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t think Apple sold ‘books’ …

    And if ‘Virginia Postrel’ can’t get even that much right …

    “It simply needs to keep [traditional] publishers happy enough to maintain an impressive-sounding inventory of titles while waiting for entirely new forms of publishing to develop”

    Like ebooks? 😛

    • Ebooks are a new technology, but the new form of publishing is the indies, who were made possible by the technology. We might see other new forms of publishing develop, but the first is already here with the indies.

      It would be nice if someone seriously challenged Amazon. Not to destroy Amazon, but to provide more competition. Unfortunately the two players with the means, Apple and Google, don’t have strong motives. Both are happily busy doing other things and making a lot of money. Those with motive (B&N, publishers, independent bookstores, various startups) don’t have the means.

      • they have the resources, just not the smarts to apply them correctly (which would involve investing in technology/design people)

        • I’d agree with Postrel. Google and Apple are both behaving as if their book business is a place holder. Neither is really competing for market share. We can observe that.

          They are certainly smart enough. We know that from their performance in other areas. Perhaps their objectives are different from what authors think their objectives should be?

    • Apple takes 30% of the revenue on all electronic purchases made through Apps on Apple devices. That’s why you can’t buy ebooks from the Barnes & Noble app or the Amazon app. So by pricing Apple has the monopoly on being the retailer of ebooks on their own device. They tried to get into ebook retailing by colluding with publishers to price-fix books aka agency pricing; and were found guilty and have to pay fines. So they are probably very cautious right now about introducing any new pricing models. Introducing new pricing models on Apple’s side would require both dumping agency pricing and starting to keep data on consumer behavior which requires resources. For now, they seem to be content to let Amazon takes the risks of experimenting with new business models in publishing and selling ebooks. They can always imitate Amazon or buy any scrappy startup later.

      Google is a more interesting case in that they are sitting on a huge hoard of public domain and entering public domain books and have the ability to do amazing surveillance of reader behavior & analysis. You’d think with their knowledge of web browsing, email composition, advertising composition and response, and text-to-speech real-time reading behavior they would have artificial intelligence composing best-sellers by now. Maybe it will be the next thing after the self-driving car. If nothing else, they could be selecting and marketing books coming out of copyright to the millisecond…

      • So by pricing Apple has the monopoly on being the retailer of ebooks on their own device.

        Not completely accurate. I can’t purchase directly from within the Kindle app, but I can purchase from the Kindle store in my browser on my iPad, including one-click purchasing, and the ebooks are automatically downloaded directly to my iPad. So I can purchase and receive Kindle books using only my iPad without Apple receiving anything from the transaction.

        • Yes, that’s why I specified purchase through apps on Apple devices. I was being too persnickety there.

    • Thanks, DaveMich. I’ve read her before and I suspected she was not being fangirlish in that quote. And now you’ve supplied the evidence.

  2. Lots of things have changed since 2010 but the position of ebooks in Apple’s ecosystem hasn’t. It is still primarily a specsheet checkoff: music, yes; video, yes; ebooks and magazines, ditto.

    Strategic value? Nope.

    And, waiting for newer forms of publishing to develop? A long wait ahead…

    What we have is what we’re getting for the foreseeable future: narrative prose, audio, video, and gaming.

    • Also, the Kindle bookstore is a selling point for iPhones and iPads. “Read ebooks from the largest selection available from the Kindle bookstore.”

      Similarly the Kindle app for iPhone and iPad is a selling point for the Kindle store. “Read Kindle books on your iPhone or iPad.” (There are a lot of iPhones and iPads out there.)

      The present situation suits both parties.

  3. Unfortunately, this is true, which is kind of a shame. The iBooks store is really just there to cover the checklist as Felix says. That’s not true of the App store, which Apple puts serious resources into promoting and providing support to App developers.

    But I have hopes that in the future it might change if Apple continues to build up iBooks Author as a creation tool. It seems to already be working in education, there are a lot of interesting enhanced ebooks for that. We’ll find out if there is a way of making it work in entertainment. It’s an something I want to spend some time noodling with because it’s an interesting tool.

    • Actually, indie app developers feel like Apple provides terrible support to them http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/19/9757516/ipad-pro-apps-pricing-ios-developers-opt-out

      • I’d take a guess at that being Apple’s apps are fairly saturated and there’s not a lot of need on their part to help small app companies.

        That’s not a slam at Apple. More along the lines that if 90% of usage can be done with bigger apps, then as long as they leave some support for breakout hits then it fills their users needs without ramping up staffing levels to approve, deny apps; deal with appeals, or complaints; or refunds for cheap trial periods.

        Microsoft chokes their Xbox developers somewhat the same way. World of Tanks had to jump through hoops and since it’s often updated that was an issue too due to the bureaucracy Microsoft had slowly built up.

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