Your time as an indie author is precious. There are more than enough tasks to fill up your schedule, and if you did them all, it’s likely you’d be working 80 hours a week. For most of the last two years, publishing directly to Apple hasn’t seemed like a worthwhile investment in time.
While there have been stories of some genres performing well on the platform, there are ten-fold as many tales of authors putting time and energy into Apple with no results to speak of. The publishing platform isn’t intuitive, and it may require a Google Search or two for strange error messages returned by your document. After uploading, Apple has been notorious for taking at least a week to get books live. Once the books become available, discoverability has been hit or miss, often leaving products languishing in sales despite your best intentions.
Without question, there are shortcomings to the Apple platform, but there is hope for 2015 and beyond. Apple’s recent acquisition of BookLamp, a book discoverability engine that could rival Amazon’s recommendation algorithm, and a renewed dedication to faster book processing, has some authors excited about the platform’s prospects. If you’re considering publishing on Apple’s iBooks store, here are six things you should keep in mind:
1. Apple is the #2 U.S. Ebook Retailer
The iBooks store has a lot of readers. According to Mark Coker from Smashwords, Apple is the number two ebook retailer behind Amazon. While there are some restrictions on who can download books from the platform, the numbers are there to support your time investment to get your books on board.
2. You Need a Mac or a Third-Party to Publish
The reason there’s a restriction on who can download your products from iBooks is because only Apple users can access the store’s app. While there are workarounds, most of the readers shopping on the store are Mac or Apple users. This roadblock is even more present for authors looking to publish on the platform.
Publishing on iBooks requires the iTunes Producer program, which is only available for a Mac. Unless you have the software to make your PC run Mac programs, you’ll need to take one of two steps to get your books on the platform. Either you’ll have to get someone with a Mac to let you publish, or you’ll need to go through a third-party publisher like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. Both paths come with complications.
If you borrow a friend’s computer to upload your books, then you’ll need to borrow that same computer any time you have to make a change on your book. When you use a third-party publisher like Smashwords or Draft2Digital, you’ll get lower royalties and you’re stuck at their speed when you have to make small changes. To avoid these two options, you may want to make a small investment in a refurbished Mac Air laptop to give you easy accessibility to iBooks.
3. More Readers Have iBooks Access
Apple has made two major changes in the last year that could give its store an advantage in the mobile reading sector. In the last year, the retailer has started to pre-install the iBooks applications on both its Mavericks operating system and its iOS8 mobile devices. While most readers need to download the free Kindle app to get Amazon-based books on their phone, the latest Apple customers will be ready to download books right out of the box. Apple has been running a series of promotions to bring attention to the iBooks app, including several indie centered-deals.
4. Content Is Curated
On Amazon, you’re more likely to get pulled into promotions like the Deal of the Day if you have great sales numbers. On the iBooks store, that’s only half of the puzzle. Like Kobo and Nook Press, Apple has merchandisers who decide which books will be a part of the Breakout Books list or other promotions. This is great news if you know an Apple iBooks merchandiser. It’s not so helpful if you don’t.
There are two main ways that authors get in touch with Apple merchandisers. The first is that they know a fellow author with the connection. After being introduced to the merchandiser, the hopeful author can pitch his or her series to be part of a promotion. The other way is to meet Apple reps directly during a conference or other book-related event. The latter method could pay more dividends because of your new personal connection. It never hurts to have a face to put with a name.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Apple is known for promoting its free books. Since the company’s primary focus is hardware, free iBooks can help bring customers into the Apple ecosystem. The more free books it pushes to new users, the more potential iPads and laptops it can sell down the line. As a result, your pitch to an iBooks representative may get more traction when it involves a free series starter.
5. You Need to Show Your Support
Apple is notorious for rejecting manuscripts that have Amazon and other competitor links inside. This is pretty smart on their part. When you simply copy and paste your Amazon manuscript over to your Apple version, you’re wasting an opportunity to get more sell-throughs to your other work on iBooks. By placing Apple-specific links in your calls to action, you’ll be better equipped to succeed on the platform.
Apple reps like to see iBooks support beyond the contents of your book. One of the quickest ways to put the reps off is to have no Apple links whatsoever on your site. It’s very important during the pitch stage to place sales links to your work that point toward the iBooks store. It’s worth pointing these links out during your Apple rep proposal. Beyond your pitch, this will ensure that iBooks readers who visit your site will have a place to click through to buy your books.
6. There Are Features You Can’t Find on Amazon
While some will decry Apple’s slow processing speed when compared to Amazon’s, the retailer has several features you can’t find anywhere else. Apple will let you do a pre-order for a book up to a year in advance. Unlike Amazon, where you need to have a rough draft to post your 90-day pre-order, Apple simply requires a cover and a blurb. Reps for iBooks also tend to like an author who’s generated sales and buzz through pre-orders.
Apple has been known to do indie-centric deals, and has also invited self-published authors to join their Breakout Books promotion. There are various monthly and weekly deals that indies can be apart of, once they’ve made inroads with an Apple rep.
When you publish a series on iBooks, Apple will link them together on a convenient series page. While Amazon is experimenting with a better interface for a series, Apple’s current layout makes it easier for readers to access follow-ups of your work. Apple also has several Amazon-like tools that can help you build links and widgets for iBooks products. Make sure to test out the iBooks LinkMaker, the Banner Builder, and the Widget Builder when you’re trying to grow an Apple-based audience.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
It’ll probably take about 10 hours for you to get a handle on the iBooks platform. A lot of authors only think of their time commitment in terms of the short-term value per hour. In this case, think about how much value your time could be worth, even in a semi-worst case scenario. Let’s say for all your trouble, you sell one copy of one book a day for the next three years. At a $2.99 price point, that’s approximately $2,200 of income for your 10 hours. Not a bad way to spend your time.
Learn the iBooks platform to open up a new potential revenue stream. It may provide you with additional income and more time to take your sales to the next level.
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