Lost a bit in Apple news last week, what with the new iPad 2 and all, was Steve Jobs' announcement that Apple's iBookstore had hit the 100 million e-book download threshold. That's pretty impressive, especially considering that iBooks isn't quite one year old yet. Part two of the announcement included the news that publisher Random House, a previous iBookstore holdout, was now onboard. Having the world's largest publisher finally agree to your terms, bringing an additional 13,000 plus titles to the 150,000 already claimed is certainly newsworthy (press release here). But what does all this mean?
More Grief For Amazon
Amazon.com's relationship with Apple has been a little tenuous of late. With Sony's Reader app being shut out of Apple's App Store, the writing seemed on the wall that Amazon's Kindle app would suffer a similar fate. The Kindle app gave iPhone, iPod Touch and especially iPad (the most direct Kindle alternative offered by Cupertino) owners the ability to buy e-books from Amazon.com that iBooks didn't offer, including popular titles from the likes of Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and Danielle Steele. Even if Apple doesn't clamp down on the Kindle app, iPad owners who use their tablet as an e-reader are no longer forced to turn to Amazon if they want to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on their iPad because it's now available through the iBookstore.
As for the 100 million downloads, that is indeed an impressive number, but it's also a potentially deceiving number, continuing in what has been a grand tradition of obfuscation among e-book sellers. Total number of titles available, paid titles vs. free titles, and total number of e-book sales data is virtually impossible to nail down, with each e-book retailer using various methods to make their e-book store seem the superior choice.This is especially important when people are shopping for a new e-reader and want to know how healthy the ecosphere surround their choice of manufacturer really is -after all, no one wants to buy an e-reader that may not be supported in a few years.
Apple's announcement is a continuation of this trend by touting the number of downloads. The problem is, downloads have no real relationship to sales. If I purchase an iBook from Apple, I have the ability to download it as many times as I want. Even though there's a master copy in my iTunes library, if that book isn't on my iPhone when I'm away from the house, no problem; I can download it again for free without having to sync with iTunes. So 100 million downloads may represent 100 million iBook sales or it may be 10 million. No-one but Apple really knows. But in the meantime, it makes for some great publicity.