August 12, 2016 Last Updated 2:35 pm

Seven steps to fix Apple’s house of horrors: the iBooks Store

Guest column: Bradley Metrock, CEO of Score Publishing, is none too happy with the condition of the iBooks Store and has some suggestions for how to fix it

Indulge me: take a moment, close your eyes, and try to imagine the incredible incompetence necessary to turn Apple’s massive, monopoly-like market share in mobile devices, combined with the force-installed iBooks app on the dashboard of every one of those devices, and only manage a 11% market share with the iBooks Store.

Time to face facts: the iBooks Store is garbage.

Can somebody call that recycling robot Tim Cook mentioned that one time at one of Apple’s press events to come haul this so-called “iBooks Store” away?

Other than being the vertically-integrated e-commerce solution to sell books created with Apple’s radically progressive iBooks Author digital publishing software – software that has transformed digital content creation, for the better, from coast to coast – the iBooks Store is a listless, uninspired shell of what an online bookstore should be.

Only a company as successful as Apple gets the luxury of having something as terrible as the iBooks Store.  Any small or medium company would be ruined by producing an effort of such poor quality.

Have we mentioned yet that the iBooks Store isn’t very good?

Now let’s discuss how to fix it.

0) Acknowledge the problem.

Before anything else, Apple must acknowledge and speak openly about the problem.  Tim Cook speaks for the company, so he needs to be the one to say we have a problem and we’re going to fix it.  Apple has too much pride, too much rich history of success, to tolerate the sustained mediocrity and lack of vision that defines the iBooks Store today.

Inherent in this is Apple must understand the strategic value of being a major player in digital books.  Digital books are a vital component of an overall content strategy that will keep Apple hardware customers happy, both in the consumer markets as well as in the education markets.  Competing successfully in digital books is not an option for Apple.

1) Keep the structure and mechanics of the store intact.
The Apple online store structure, with the marquee banner ads up top and the compartmentalized categories spread throughout, followed by a menu at the bottom, doesn’t need to be replaced.  That’s not the problem.  So you don’t reinvent the wheel.

2) Stop being lazy.

Let’s look at the store as it appears now.  The first bar of titles we see are described as “Trending.”


We’re going to stop you right there.  We’re not here for crowdsourced suggestions.  We came for carefully curated, highly diverse, interesting content.

“Trending” is lazy and tired, two adjectives we never ever want to use to describe Apple products or services again.  And you’ll never beat Amazon selling the same stuff they do.  You’re going to have to get out in front on stuff nobody’s talking about, yet, in order to change the game.

And while we’re at it, stop using the word “Popular” as well.  If we were looking for “Popular,” we’d be over on Amazon already.  “Popular” is lazy.  Stop being lazy.

3) Stop being boring.

“Weekly Bestsellers Under $4” – what is this, Kmart?  And romance, romance, romance!  Makes you wonder what sells the best, doesn’t it?


Except…wait a minute, you’re not selling anything!  With your paltry 11% market share, the market is speaking, and it is telling you STOP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING.

We want to see Art of the DealAn Inconvenient TruthThe Mozart Project, 50 Shades of GreyTo Kill A MockingbirdBlinkHeaven Is For RealThe God DelusionCosmos, and Physics in Motion, all on the same front page.

I shouldn’t be able to guess more than a small fraction of the titles I’ll find on the iBooks Store’s front page.  Ever.

Diversity.  Say it with me.  Actual diversity.  Of topics, of authors, of genders, of ideologies, of publishing approach, of everything.  Diversity is interesting, and interesting is what can compete and win against the Amazon digital book juggernaut.

4) The more control you can give authors, the better.
Authors should have a page on the iBooks Store where they can plant the flag and represent themselves and their content precisely how they want.  The pricing they want.  The bundling / discounting / deals they want to offer.  The graphics and design they want to have presented on the page.  The suggestions of other author’s work they want to make, to those buying particular titles.  EVERYTHING.

This goes for authors using iBooks Author specifically, as well as ones that don’t.

Why this hasn’t happened yet is anyone’s guess.  Fix it.

5) Embrace multi-touch books created in iBooks Author.

Call them iBooks and stop confusing people.  Market them as next-generation content, only available through the Apple ecosystem.  Your education people will thank you.

Doing what you’re doing now with the iBooks Store – ignoring iBooks Author and its growing and diverse community of content creators – is nothing short of an insult to Steve Jobs’ legacy.  And insults to Steve Jobs’ legacy will always be bad for business.

If you wanted a competitive advantage over the Amazon ecosystem, iBooks Author hands it to you on a silver platter.  And people will find this interactive, multimedia-driven content INTERESTING.  Something your store isn’t right now.

One day, every book released in any sort of mainstream channel will feature audio, video, high-res images, and interactive elements.  You have a head start.  Stop wasting it.

6) Place the button to buy a book for a friend within the screen first visible on the store.

No one should spend even one second looking for this as its a huge reason, and perhaps the only reason, some people venture into the iBooks Store.

Right now, this button is hidden on the front page.  In the world where the iBooks Store is providing an interesting and fresh consumer experience, this button will absolutely have to be in a smarter location.


7) Once you’re back on your feet, don’t stop there.  Go for the kill: go cross-platform.

Once you’ve done all this, and you’re successful in a way the iBooks Store hasn’t been in a long long time, take the iBooks app on the road to other, non-Apple platforms.  Paradoxically, this will grow market share by making the Apple ecosystem impossible to resist.

The next-generation experience offered by books created in iBooks Author must be made consistent across platforms.  And if Apple ever comes close to offering this type of iBooks Store experience, everyone’s going to want in…even those who will have to wait a cycle or two to buy their way out of Android and into Apple hardware.

Bradley-Metrock-headshot-200Things don’t have to stay the same.  The iBooks Store can be the comeback story of the company – as hot of a growth revenue stream as iCloud or Apple Music.  But only if you’re willing to think different.

Bradley Metrock is CEO of Score Publishing, a digital media company based with the mission to help people become better interactive content creators.  His company produces the annual iBooks Author Conference, taking place October 6-7 in Nashville.  Tickets are available here (via Eventbrite).

  • L.W. "Larry" Hewitt 2 months ago

    I cannot even advertise in my own books that they are available for iBooks … if you can follow that. Apple comes back and has a fit that I used their trademark – to sell their product in their store, no less. I created a fiction template that allows me to present a properly formatted book in landscape the way a book should be presented, and a more traditional ePub-looking book in portrait – the best of both worlds. They are completely lost on the iBooks store – a terrible shame. I promote them to my email list as an alternative give-away if someone buys the ePub or Kindle – otherwise, the effort to create them is wasted. I have almost dropped the multi-touch a number of times after trying to deal with Apple. BTW – been an Apple and Mac advocate since 1985 – worst experience I have ever had with them.

    • Bradley Metrock 2 months ago

      Our view is that, for all entities that aren’t educators or educational institutions, that iBooks created with iBooks Author are a forward-looking place to invest time and resources, but with the caveat: you better not need the iBooks Store to help you make money back.

      We think people will be reading these interactive, multimedia-driven books, with text, images, audio, video, and interactivity, for the next thousand years. What’s it matter if we don’t get it quite right, when the market comes around?

      Apple needs to help in every way they can in moving us closer to this future though. Taking commentary like this article seriously would be a good place to start.

  • Marc Schulman 2 months ago

    The failure of Apple to promote books made in iBooks Author is a real enigma. We produced some of the same content as an App and with iBook Author, the versions with iBook author were for a long while better but have never sold

    • Bradley Metrock 2 months ago

      Marc, this is a common refrain especially among people or groups that were first to market with iBooks back in 2012 or even 2013. The market wasn’t ready for this innovation fully yet, but Apple didn’t help by botching a number of things along the way.

      Now, though, is a bit of a different story as hardware advances (and Apple consolidation of mobile device market share) has created the conditions for these next-generation digital books to emerge. Apple marketing these books created with iBooks Author would help immensely, but this is the way the market is going with or without Apple’s further initiative.

      Finally, and you can probably appreciate this – if Apple wanted to truly do something brilliant and revolutionary, they would bring an engineering team together to give iBooks Author the ability to optionally export iBooks as mobile applications (into the App Store) alongside the digital book versions that could be exported/distributed through the iBooks Store. I had this conversation with the Mozart Project guys (from the UK) when they keynoted last year’s iBooks Author Conference. They agreed: some iBooks are so advanced they easily could pass for mobile apps…so why not enable that?