Reviewing the new developments in Kindle vs iBooks

Steve Jobs announced some important additions to iBooks at today’s Reality Distortion Conference -

  1. Ability to add notes to an iBook.
  2. Ability to just tap and add a bookmark. 
  3. iBooks gets PDF support. Click a PDF you get in your email and it opens up in iBooks. A separate bookshelf for PDFs.
  4. iBooks comes to the iPhone. It’s in iOS4 which is the default for iPhone 4 and also available free to previous generation iPhones.  
  5. Apparently iPhone 4′s new Retina Display makes books very pretty. It might even make them more readable.
  6. A book bought via iBooks will be downloadable to all your iDevices.
  7. iBooks will synchronize your place, notes, and bookmarks across iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.  

Most of these features are already present on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. The PDF support is one feature that the Kindle for iPhone/Kindle for iPad app doesn’t yet support.  Overall, these features are a big deal as they make iBooks a stronger competitor to Kindle for iPhone.

Reviewing impact on Kindle for iPhone vs iBooks

If you own an iWhatever you will probably consider these points -

  1. iBooks is the more publicized app and it matches the Apple aesthetic better. 
  2. iBooks has PDF support.  
  3. Kindle for iPhone has far more new books and better prices for non Agency Model books. 
  4. Kindle for iPhone syncs with PC, Mac, Blackberry, and the Kindle.
  5. Kindle for iPhone is a better reading experience than iBooks – better themes, better brightness control, better font.
  6. iBooks has fancy animated page turns and wooden bookshelves.
  7. iBooks has an in-app store - No having to go to the browser to buy books.

Kindle for iPhone is clearly better if your focus is on range and price of books and the reading experience. iBooks is better if you care a lot about animated page turns or need PDF support. 

Apple’s trump card is the power of the default and owning the App Store. Apple will just publicize iBooks a lot and win out.

Reviewing impact on iPhone vs Kindle

 Kindle is clearly a better reading device. There are only two substantial pieces of news as far as Kindle vs iPhone is concerned -

  1. Addition of PDF support. This makes the iPhone a tiny better than it was. 
  2. Apparently books in iBooks look much better with the iPhone 4′s new Retina Display. If this translates into better readability i.e. less eye strain and better screen contrast then it would make a better contrast Kindle 3 an absolute necessity.

Today’s news makes existing iPhones slightly better reading devices. It also suggests that the iPhone 4 might be a slightly dangerous competitor with its improved screen contrast – Trust Apple to give it a fancy name (Retina Display) – almost expected it to be called MagicalVision.  

Reviewing impact on iPad vs Kindle

The iPad doesn’t really get much – just PDF support. It probably makes PDF readers history. However, the Kindle already has PDF support. The syncing between iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch isn’t a competitive advantage either – Kindle syncs across a lot more devices including all three of these.

If the next version of the iPad were to get the Retina Display it would be interesting to see how it looks and whether the difference in readability between eInk and LCD is reduced. At the moment the Kindle continues to be a significantly better reading device – unless you want a device that does multiple things.

Big Surprise - iBooks doing well with Agency Model Publishers

Jobs was fashionably vague about how iBooks is doing -

  1. In the first 65 days – 5 million books downloaded. About 2.5 per iPad. 
  2. No update from 2 million iPads sold. Guess he’s waiting to reach 3 million. 
  3. 5 of the 6 biggest publishers in the US tell Apple that the share of iBooks is up to about 22% – in 8 weeks. Assuming he means 22% of the ebook market for those 5 publishers. 

Compared to how close to their chests Amazon and B&N keep their sales figures this amount of disclosure seems positively scandalous.

What does it mean?

Perhaps as the Agency Model 5 raised their ebook prices their sales on other devices dipped. Lots of iBooks users were probably unaware of the whole $9.99 vs $14.99 controversy or didn’t care and their purchases meant that 22% of all sales of ebooks (for these 5 publishers) were from iBooks. It’s also worth noting that Random House is not on iBooks – meaning most users had no choice except for the Agency Model 5.

  1. Does this mean another 22% of sales for these Publishers were through Kindle for iPad? Amazon aren’t exactly going to help us out with that question. 
  2. B&N eReader for iPad was released just a few days ago so its figures wouldn’t really help.
  3. Is the figure high because Kindle owners have stopped buying books from these Publishers? Is it because iBooks users are buying lots of books?

2.5 books per iPad doesn’t seem very high – especially if it includes free books.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on – 22% is a healthy number. However, it’s disingenuous of the Agency Model 5 to not reveal what happened to ebook sales in other channels – Did they dip? Did they go up? What about sales through Kindle Store – what happened there?

iBooks on the iPhone and iPod Touch means a huge potential customer base

The two key words are huge and potential -

  1. There are 100 million iDevices and most of these are iPhones and iPod Touches (98 million or so). 
  2. The iBooks store will have access to the 150 million credit cards that iTunes has access to. 
  3. These users might be interested in reading books.
  4. Some portion might be coerced into reading 1 or 2 books a year.
  5. A smaller portion might end up reading a book a month on their iPhones.

The hugeness of the number (98 million) and the fact that there are 150 million credit cards in iTunes are very significant. It remains to be seen whether that translates into a lot of ebook sales.

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