What it is: iBooks is Apple’s e-book, online store that competes with other online e-book retailers such as Amazon and Nook.
Back in 2010 when Apple introduced the iPad, they also introduced their iBooks store for purchasing e-books much like people purchased audio downloads from iTunes. The big difference is that iTunes changed the music industry while iBooks is just existing. What happened?
The big problem is that Amazon dominates the e-book market with their online presence and their Kindle e-readers. What Amazon did right and what Apple did wrong was that Amazon makes it easy for anyone to self-publish an e-book. This means lots of poorly written e-books flooded Amazon’s market, but it also means a large book market.
Apple, on the other hand, makes self-publishing far more difficult. Not only do you have to purchase your own ISBN numbers to uniquely identify a book (ISBN numbers are expensive to buy unless you buy them in bulk, but that requires hundreds or even thousands of dollars), but Apple must vet your ebook before releasing it to the iBookstore. The result is that iBooks has far fewer self-published titles. Since there are so few titles to choose from compared to Amazon, most buyers and self-published authors flock to Amazon. Since so many buyers and authors are relying on Amazon, there’s little reason to use Apple’s iBookstore except as an afterthought.
Where iBooks excels against Amazon is in the field of interactive e-books, but that interactivity takes time to complete and even then, it’s not always successful. People are still used to reading static text so the addition of interactive ebooks isn’t that useful or compelling. Although interactive ebooks are more interesting, they’re not as easy to create and the end result isn’t always that interesting.
Where interactive ebooks and iBooks might excel in the future is through combining augmented reality or virtual reality. Rather than view a simple ebook with text and graphics on a screen, a true interactive ebook would let you view and manipulate objects right in front of you. A chemistry textbook printed on paper can only show a static image of a molecule. An interactive version of that same book could let you rotate the molecule on the screen, but an augmented reality version could display a three-dimensional image in the air where you could view and manipulate it.
The bottom line is that interactivity has done little to propel interactive ebooks beyond today’s static text and graphics ebooks. Augmented or virtual reality might change that and finally give someone a reason to choose iBooks instead of Amazon. For a glimpse of the future of interactive ebooks, reread “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson. In this book that takes place in the future, a girl gets an interactive ebook and can talk to it so the ebook keeps explaining different things to her. It’s the ultimate learning tool where the book is less a collection of content than a portal into knowledge with an electronic guide.
iBooks can’t quite reach the level of sophistication that “The Diamond Age” ebook can do, but that’s the future. Interactive ebooks and iBooks in particular can only thrive once they go far beyond today’s static text and graphics ebooks. It’s coming. It’s just that it’s taking far longer than apple might want. As long as Apple is willing to stick with iBooks, it could one day take over the ebook market, but that one day could turn into never as long as Amazon maintains their lead and people find little value in interactive ebooks compared to today’s static ebooks.