Apple adding 1M new iBookstore users per week since September

Pre-installing app in iOS and Yosemite triggered wave of growth, says company

At the Digital Book World conference in New York City on Thursday, Apple’s iBooks chief Keith Moerer revealed that since the release of iOS 8 and Yosemite — both of which came with the iBooks app pre-installed — the user base is growing by about one million customers to the iBookstore per week. Moerer added that the introduction of larger-screen iPhones may also have played a role in the growth, and he spoke about the way Apple runs its iBooks business.

During the interview with Publishers Lunch founder and conference co-chair Michael Cader, neither he nor Moerer ever mentioned Apple’s chief rival in the e-book industry, Amazon. Moerer took pains, however, to distinguish Apple from its rivals, mentioning to the publishing industry audience that Apple’s terms are exactly the same for all publishers and self-publishing authors, regardless of popularity or which company represents their work. Perhaps hinting at recent acrimonious relations between publishers, authors and Amazon, he noted that Apple wasn’t “a publisher ourselves, we work very closely with publishers and we view them as partners.”

“We view what we do as an expansion of our support of print professionals on the hardware and software side,” he added, “and the way we run our other media businesses.” While generally seen as a distant second to Amazon — particularly since a lopsided prosecution on possible price-fixing of e-books ignored evidence from publishers and e-bookstore rivals regarding Amazon’s bullying tactics — the news of the growth would suggest that Apple’s iBookstore has seen at least 17 million new users over the past four months. Previously, the iBooks app was an optional download that was not already pre-included on Macs and iOS devices.

Moerer mentioned that due to the success of the larger iPhone 6 line, “we are seeing more of our book sales starting to come from the phone,” and noted in the talk — which was clearly aimed at authors and publishers — that the company doesn’t charge publishers to promote the books it features on its site, using only its own staffers to pick and promote books they feel merit attention. “One hundred percent of our merchandising is editorially focused. We accept no co-op payments, no pay for placement,” he said, adding that “it’s in Apple’s DNA to support creative professionals of all types … many of whom use our hardware, many of whom use our software. The same 30-70 split [seen in all of Apple’s media businesses] applies to a self-published author as well as an author published by the very biggest house,” a factor he said he was “very proud” of.

Moerer’s presence at the Digital Book World conference was likely to let publishers and authors — particularly those feeling mistreated of late by Amazon, which has returned to the strongarm tactics it used when it had a monopoly position in publishing — about the new growth in Apple’s iBookstore and to convince them that they’d be treated differently by Apple. To that end, he gave out his email address on stage as a contact.

Asked about the strongest points of the iBookstore in terms of sales, Moerer said movie tie-ins were an area where the iBookstore appeared to be out-performing rivals, since the company also sells a wide variety of other digital media, including movies, music and TV shows. “We’re able to do a lot to promote movie tie-ins before theatrical release, during the theatrical window, and when the movies come out on iTunes, typically about 90 days after the release.” Apple, he said, can “leverage” customers who come to iTunes for other media and cross-promote things that tie into items customers want.

Moerer also mentioned the company’s lack of restrictions on making content available free in the iBookstore. Apple has traditionally not charged creators for placement or other services provided as part of its media stores if the content is priced as free, even though Apple incurs costs in doing so. By contrast, Amazon charges a “download fee” on against authors of lower-priced and free content. The company, he said, likes having free content in the store to entice customers, which tends to result in additional paid sales.

Asked about the specifics of some country’s iBookstores, he said that the UK, French and German stores were the biggest in terms of sales, while noting that Japan was the fastest-growing in terms of sales and content. The Canadian store, which carries a wide selection of offerings in both English and French was “robust,” with the French-language publishers also selling well. Japan’s success was in part due to the increase in local-language books, a factor that had the Latin America market growing more slowly.

Contrary to public perception, Moerer said that nonfiction and nonfiction illustrated books, which traditionally do poorly on digital bookstores, have also improved in sales with the inflow of new users, “really starting with memoirs and biographies, particularly those biographies and memoirs that have a pop culture tie-in … it’s been slow but we’re starting to see some real momentum around children’s publishing as well.” GigaOm reports.

With regards to genre fiction, where readers have been slow to make the transition to digital, he said that Apple has made “a real effort” to focus on genre fiction over the last 18 months, and added that the market was “certainly slower than we would like, but using the iTunes music store as an example, jazz and classical music fans were the slowest to move from physical to digital over the years … we think that we’ll see a similar progression with illustrated and children’s books … it will take some time.”

“If you’re not already working with iBooks, the best way to make that first contact is to send me an email,” Moerer said. “I’ll make sure that it gets to the right person, and we’ll get back to you.”

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