iBooks or Apps? The publisher's dilemma

Should publishers sell books using Apple’s App Store or iBookstore?

Many publishers have started using the iPhone App Store as a channel to sell book content by packaging e-books as applications. There are currently 18,000 books in the App Store, and books are the fastest growing category of application in the store.

With the launch of the iPad and the iBookstore, Apple has given publishers another option for delivering content. In this post we analyse the pros and cons of both approaches.

e-book App iBook download
Business model Publisher free to set price point. Apple take 30% of revenues. Publisher free to set price point. Apple take 30% of revenues.
Production process Convert content to online PDF or XML.

Design, build, test and debug application. Submit to Apple.

Convert content to ePub XML.
Approval process Apps approved on an individual basis by Apple at their exclusive discretion. Process known to be slow and subject to censorship. Currently unknown.

The process must scale to significantly higher volumes than the app approval process. Withholding approval by Apple much less likely as censorship of books could be damaging.

Discoverability Good via iTunes, but lacking specific book specific features. Store is geared more towards conventional apps. Currently unknown.

Delivering iBooks via a separate channel from apps will enable Apple to build book specific features such as full text search, content previews, related reading, discussion forums etc.

These features would be in direct competition with Amazon so search engine optimisation will be critical.

Delivery platforms Available on iPhone, iPod and iPad from launch. US iPad only at launch.

Apple would be missing a significant opportunity if the iBookstore is not made available on the iPhone quickly. The use of ePub would allow Apple to deliver the iBook reader application to desktop machines in addition to the iPad after launch.


For straightforward chapter based book content it seems clear there is no longer a compelling case for publishers to deliver e-books as apps. The extra cost of software development, combined with the slowness and lack of scalability in the approval process no longer make sense now that Apple have introduced the iBookstore.

For other types of content the case is not so clear cut. Publishers with the ability to invest can develop reference based apps which add value by delivering content in context. Mobile workflow applications will still be a signifiant growth opportunity for publishers.

As the iBookstore is currently geared toward the consumer market, publishers who deliver large databases of journal and book content to institutional markets should look to the iBook model as a way of tapping into a traditionally harder to reach individual market. And publishers wishing to monetise currently offline backlist content should look carefully at the opportunities afforded by the iBook platform.

Although the iBook reader app is not currently available on the iPhone there seems no compelling reason why it will not be released in response to market demand. Bearing in mind the popularity of e-book applications on the iPhone this would appear to be a very simple decision for Apple.

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4 Responses to “iBooks or Apps? The publisher's dilemma”

  1. This Week in the Blogs: February 21 – February 27, 2010 — The Book Designer

    […] Padley on The Discovery Blog iBooks or Apps? The publishers dilemma “With the launch of the iPad and the iBookstore Apple have given publishers another option […]

  2. ediciona.com » Blog Archive » ¿Vender en iPhone App Store o en iBookstore? Una comparativa

    […] Vía The discovery blog “iBooks or Apps? The publishers dilema“ […]

  3. Richard Padley

    Interestingly the latest figures from the app store indicate that books now outnumber games by a small margin:


  4. Penguin opts for Apps | The discovery blog - Semantico

    […] on from Richard Padley’s recent post on apps vs e-books, it has emerged that one publisher at least, Penguin Books, has made the choice. Up until now the […]


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