In a keynote conversation at Digital Book World Thursday morning, Apple executive Keith Moerer revealed that since the launch last fall of iOS8 – which embedded the iBooks app within the operating system for the first time — the company has averaged more than 1 million new users a week of iBooks. While Moerer obviously touted this stat as significant, he did admit that device Pre-loading “makes it so easy for customers to download a free book,” Moerer noted; the company recently ended promotion that gave new iBooks users access to ten free ebooks from both major houses and indie publishers, which also spurred growth.
Since the launch of the iBooks Store in the US in 2010, in tandem with the first iPad, Apple has grown to sell ebooks in 51 countries, and Moerer disclosed a significant milestone, saying their customers have downloaded “more than 1 billion books, worldwide and lifetime, to date.” Moerer also pointed to the benefits of the bigger screens and retina displays on the newest iPhones as a key driver of iBooks usage. That said, Moerer clarified “we don’t really track reading behavior, but more of those sales are coming through phones.” Sales are strong, as expected, for fiction and narrative nonfiction, though Moerer expressed optimism for their sales growth on children’s and illustrated books as well as other category nonfiction, comparing the delay in digital migration there to the pace of change for jazz and classical music buyers.
Apple’s large international presence also means opportunities outside the US market, and Moerer singled out Germany and France as the company’s biggest market, along with “cumulatively robust” markets throughout Western and Eastern Europe. Apple’s fastest-growing market is Japan — “largely local language” — while Latin America “has been a little slow to grow and take off.” Apple has also seen success with French publishers selling into the Canadian iBookstore, in addition to Spanish-language titles being a bigger part (albeit still a small slice) of the US business.
Moerer stressed that Apple is not also a publisher — unlike other online retailer competitors — which allows for close collaboration with publishers, and that “we’re very proud our business terms are the same for self-publishers as they are for authors published by the biggest houses.” (Another point: no co-op. “One hundred of our merchandising is editorially focused.”) Apple is “constantly looking for ways to support authors, be it debut novelists, midlist authors on their third book poised for a big breakout, or bestsellers. We recognize that without authors and books there is no business.” Further (and perhaps an indicator of the relative importance of the overall business) “what we do [with books] is an extension of the hardware and software side.”
With respect to discovery, the iBooks homepage is obviously a “very powerful merchandising vehicle” but Moerer said Apple sees “strong traffic” on various category pages, though he did not name which ones. He also pointed to author events at Apple stores, most notably the Soho store in New York, as a sales driver.