Apple has been quietly growing its share of the U.S. e-book market according to its testimony during the current e-book price-fixing court case against it, and now accounts for 20 percent of e-book sales overall stateside (via MacRumors). That’s about twice as much as has been speculated in the past by market-watchers, and it indicates that Apple, while nowhere near the dominant force that Amazon is, might be slowly winning a sizeable chunk of the digital book space.
The news overall comes in a negative context for Apple, which is defending itself against allegations by the government and had to defend the iBookstore from a characterization as a failure, but it’s still good news for the iBooks business, which looks to have a chance to grow even further as Apple delivers desktop support for its digital books via an iBooks application for Mac, shipping with the next release of OS X, 10.9 Mavericks, sometime this fall.
The iBooks arrival on the desktop should be good for consumers, as it provides one more place to read. Cross-platform reach has been the big advantage of competing stores like the Amazon, Nook and Kobo stores so far, and while Apple’s expansion to the Mac still leaves anyone not on Apple devices out of the loop, so it’s unclear how much adoption will spike. But it’s fair to speculate that iBooks has done well on the back of Apple’s increasingly far-reaching presence in education, since texts feature prominently in its promotional efforts around iBooks (and were again on display at the OS X iBooks unveiling at WWDC).
iBooks on the Mac isn’t going to be revolutionary because it lets you pick up where you left off in the latest Game Of Thrones installment on your iPad, since I think a very small portion of people would prefer reading books on their computer vs. on a mobile device. But it will be huge for the education market; in many ways an interactive textbook makes more sense on OS X than it does on iOS, if only because of the greater ability to take extensive notes, view multiple books at once as windowed separate selections, and just generally take better advantage of multiple streams of information.
iBooks is a fine hedge as a consumer-focused e-books platform (it lets Apple claim a more complete ecosystem), but its real lasting value will probably be in education, where it gives Apple a definite leg up on other competing platforms. Others are doing e-textbooks, but Apple has the education pedigree to do it right and spread it fast, and that’s likely what’s behind its iBookstore growth.