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iPhone App Outperforms Most Print (Computer) Books This Holiday Season

Conventional wisdom suggests that when choosing pilot projects, you pick ones with a high likelihood of success. It’s hard to argue that iPhone: The Missing Manual was a reasonable choice for testing the iPhone App waters. But while we knew it would do well, we’ve been quite pleased with just how well:

  • If the iPhone App by itself had been a book, it would be a top 10 seller in BookScan for Computer Books this holiday season, based on just 17 days of sales
  • The print version appears to have been unaffected, retaining a solid position in the top 3 for Computer Books in BookScan
  • A full 1/3 of those buying the app are outside the US, mostly in countries where the print book is not readily available

There are certainly some who don’t care for the book-as-app approach, preferring the library model (where one app enables reading multiple titles). It’s also clear there’s substantial customer interest in both options, and we strongly believe that offering a variety of options and letting customers choose is the right approach. This is a time for experimentation, and we’ll be doing quite a bit more of it (format, pricing, content) in the digital — and especially mobile — space in the coming months.

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  • bowerbird

    > we strongly believe that offering a variety of options
    > and letting customers choose is the right approach

    oh andrew, you knew i couldn’t let this pass, didn’t you?

    it’s some doubletalk when “letting customers choose” is
    the euphemism for “making them pay for both” formats.

    your company has clearly made a firm policy decision on
    this matter, so why not just have the bravery to own it?

    that way, at least we can feel admiration for your courage
    while we’re nonetheless giving you failing marks on brains.

    but now we have to dock you on both accounts, as well as
    the heart department, for a big goose-egg for you in the
    “off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of oz” trifecta.

    once again, not the end of the world; we’re accustomed to
    corporations wanting to charge us for “format shifting” so
    we have to re-pay for content every time we turn around…

    but at least look us in the eye when you hand over the bill.

    -bowerbird

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    @bowerbird — it would hardly seem like a real post without a comment from you!

    I find your argument unpersuasive. The #2 paid App in the App Store right now is “Crash Bandicoot”; should people who buy it there expect to also be able to play it on their PlayStation?

    Our hypothesis is that a large number of iPhone users are interested in learning more about how to use their device, and are willing to pay for a $4.99 App they can buy and begin using very quickly the same way they do with all their other Apps. We would lose many of those customers if they had to navigate several screens into a separate app, or if they had to leave their phones, go to their computer, etc. Jane Litte had a nice post on how those hoops feel to many customers. We want to make sure that when we offer something similar, it doesn’t provoke that kind of reaction.

    Do we want a way for people to easily buy our books on the iPhone and get multiple, DRM-free formats? Of course, and we’re working on it. But we’re also not going to wait until every possible channel supports integration with all formats for all customers. I’ve bought quite a few book Apps myself, and I simply don’t care about re-use, because I’m buying transient entertainment — certainly mine is not the only reasonable point of view, but neither is yours.

    Those people who do care about and value multiple, standards-based formats that are portable across devices can (and do) buy them directly from us. We’re also actively working on giving them other ways to do the same. We like to say that we try to “Fail Forward Fast”.

  • bowerbird

    andrew said:
    > I find your argument unpersuasive.

    why does that not surprise me? :+)

    still, what it boils down to is that this is _not_
    an “argument” between you and me personally,
    but a decision that your _customers_ will make.

    > The #2 paid App in the App Store
    > right now is “Crash Bandicoot”;
    > should people who buy it there expect to
    > also be able to play it on their PlayStation?

    if the videogame industry had been trumpeting
    their “open standard format” for videogames,
    and we knew it was a simple matter of flipping
    a switch so that we _could_ play it both places,
    well, yes, i think customers _could_ expect that.

    whether we _would_ expect it is another question.

    some of us just assume that the corporations will
    charge us every chance they get, whether it be via
    “format shifting” or whatever is convenient for them.

    heck, we even believe your lies when you tell us that
    the “format shifting” is going to make things cheaper.
    remember how we were told that c.d.’s were gonna be
    cheaper than vinyl? right. sure thing. didn’t happen…

    but, like i said, if you’re gonna lie to us, at least _smile_
    when you do.

    of course, there are consequences to your dishonesty too.

    i don’t have to tell you how the vinyl/c.d. thing played out.
    as you know, we customers happened to get the last laugh.

    and now a vast swatch of the history of recorded music is
    available for free to anyone with a net-connected computer.

    and worst of all, for the music dinosaurs, they now have
    a completely adversarial relationship with their customers,
    with mutual distrust being the primary guiding force, to the
    extent the industry was actively dragging its fans into court,
    assuming their initial shakedown-payment effort didn’t work.

    is this the kind of relationship you want with your audience?

    > Our hypothesis is that a large number of iPhone users are
    > interested in learning more about how to use their device

    and you’re willing to charge ‘em to satisfy their curiosity.
    sounds like a match made in heaven… :+)

    > and are willing to pay for a $4.99 App they can buy
    > and begin using very quickly the same way they do
    > with all their other Apps. We would lose many of
    > those customers if they had to navigate several screens
    > into a separate app, or if they had to leave their phones,
    > go to their computer, etc.

    well, that’s all great logic.

    points out some of the problems with the current model,
    which might lead to an interesting discussion about ways
    to solve those problems, if anyone was interested in dialog.

    but none of what you have said justifies any extra charge
    for doing this “format shift”. as it is, you’re charging us
    _twice_ if we wanna have the content in multiple formats.

    why not just man up and agree that’s what you’re doing?

    you keep trying to sidestep and justify. it’s unbecoming…

    > Do we want a way for people to easily buy our books
    > on the iPhone and get multiple, DRM-free formats?
    > Of course, and we’re working on it.

    ah! now we’re finally getting into the corporate-speak
    delaying-tactics i expected to receive in the first place.

    “we’re working on it” at least gives the impression that
    you’re willing to acknowledge that your customers might
    see this as a problem, without forcing you to do too much.

    > I’ve bought quite a few book Apps myself,
    > and I simply don’t care about re-use, because
    > I’m buying transient entertainment

    i thought your e-book was informative and educational.
    but if you say it’s just “transient entertainment”, well…

    > certainly mine is not the only reasonable point of view,
    > but neither is yours.

    as i said up top, neither my opinion nor yours counts much.
    it’s the opinion of your customer-base that make a difference.
    you’d better hope you read it correctly.

    > Those people who do care about and value multiple,
    > standards-based formats that are portable across devices
    > can (and do) buy them directly from us. We’re also
    > actively working on giving them other ways to do the same.
    > We like to say that we try to “Fail Forward Fast”.

    if you look back, you will see that my initial post on this
    was simply a wail that — in announcing the iphone app –
    you hadn’t adequately informed _me_ — or anyone else –
    that purchasing the app shut us off from the other formats.

    -bowerbird

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    > still, what it boils down to is that this is _not_ an “argument” between you and me personally, but a decision that your _customers_ will make.

    […]

    > as i said up top, neither my opinion nor yours counts much. it’s the opinion of your customer-base that make a difference. you’d better hope you read it correctly.

    I agree completely.

    > if you look back, you will see that my initial post on this was simply a wail that — in announcing the iphone app — you hadn’t adequately informed _me_ — or anyone else — that purchasing the app shut us off from the other formats.

    I regret that you feel that way. If you have suggestions for how to be clearer in our language, I’d be happy to hear it. Again, people who buy the ebook bundle from us directly get iPhone access via Stanza (or Bookworm, if they prefer); buying the $4.99 App means getting only the App. Perhaps in the future we could offer a version of the App at a higher price that somehow included access to the other formats; not something we currently have the capability of doing, but certainly worth looking into.

  • http://www.munseys.com dmoynihan

    Well, let’s be fair. I think kudos are in order. Sounds like you guys have a real hit on your hands, and with one title directly available through the App Store, managed to outsell (assuming ~50k books) Fictionwise’s entire Ereader line in that timespan.

    This is an accomplishment, though I do think you’re mis-attributing a certain quote about the failings of “go to a third site, open an account, download, check out, etc.”

    But isn’t it interesting that all the nonsense about one “universal consumer format” goes by the wayside the minute actual money’s there to be made? I mean, the Iphone CAN be used as an ebook reader; it is however much more popular as a music player, film viewer, and portable flatulence simulator.

    So you end up modifying your texts to meet the needs of the device, and not pretending the device must meet your needs, by supporting say epub, a file format that does very little well and is poorly implemented even by its biggest boosters.

    So enjoy the proceeds of your Iphone app, buy the next round for Stephen Windwalker, but please don’t try and tell me about the virtues of open-ness, best practices, or any other idiocies. The best practice is the one that garners the most customers, and puts the most money in Tim O’Reilly’s pocket.

    (Note also, it was only after dumping Stanza that Lexcycle generated a legitimate revenue model.)

  • bowerbird

    > If you have suggestions for how to be clearer
    > in our language, I’d be happy to hear it.

    in the interim, the situation has become quite clear.
    by that time, however, i’d purchased the iphone app.

    but i never would’ve done that if i had known that
    all i was getting was a dedicated icon on my screen,
    without any way of repurposing the book elsewhere.
    (well, _maybe_, if the dedicated app was just $.49.)

    so if you do this thing with other books in the future,
    i’d suggest you present the tradeoffs right up front…

    > Again, people who buy the ebook bundle from us
    > directly get iPhone access via Stanza (or Bookworm,
    > if they prefer); buying the $4.99 App means
    > getting only the App. Perhaps in the future we could
    > offer a version of the App at a higher price that
    > somehow included access to the other formats;
    > not something we currently have the capability
    > of doing, but certainly worth looking into.

    that “perhaps in the future” and “worth looking into”
    language is what i was expecting you to put forth…

    the “never the formats shall meet” approach that you
    seemed to be taking was — honestly — a big surprise.

    now the only surprise will be if you actually make good
    on the challenges that such a bundle realistically poses.

    -bowerbird

    p.s. i also get the sense that you’re underestimating me,
    and badly… which you might not want do, by the way… :+)
    but of course then that makes me wonder if _i_ might be
    underestimating _you_. any tricks up your sleeve, andrew?

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    @dmoynihan — EPUB continues to be a viable consumer format for us, and it has been immensely valuable as an exchange format — it would have been much more difficult to do the direct Stanza integration (download to Stanza via your oreilly.com account) or the iPhone App without a standard format. And you’ll have to ask them, but AFAIK Lexcycle hasn’t “dumped” Stanza.

    @bowerbird — I’ve talked about most of our digital projects well in advance using similar language. I’ll admit it can sound vague, but I also have to be careful not to overpromise and then disappoint, as priorities and resources can quickly change, especially in the current environment.

    I hope it was not your intention, but your postscript sounds like a threat, and that’s not something that belongs on this site. If that was not your intention, accept my apologies; if it was, please consider yourself warned to refrain from threats in your comments.

  • bowerbird

    a threat? whyever in the world would you think _that_?

    first of all, that little thingee there in the right-margin
    — that colon/plus-sign/close-parenthesis thingee –
    is called a “smiley”, and it means this is all humorous…

    i’m having a good time, in good spirits, and it’s all love.

    so whyever in the world would you take it as “a threat”?

    i simply asked if i was “underestimating” you. am i?

    because it seems to me that your position concerning
    “perhaps in the future we could offer a version of the
    app at a higher price that somehow included access
    to the other formats” is particularly feeble-minded, so
    — without saying much more — it seemed to me that
    you are underestimating me personally (which, honestly,
    doesn’t bother me) and your customer-base as a whole
    (which, honestly, doesn’t bother me either, except that
    it might be a path that you probably shouldn’t be taking).

    having said all that — and i really don’t want to say more –
    it occurred to me — as it should to anyone who is engaged
    in the spirited dialog which i myself believe is happening
    here right now — that _i_ might be underestimating _you_.

    so you can be assured i’ve taken that under consideration.

    and, to say it one more time, that’s all i really want to say. :+)

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.munseys.com dmoynihan

    @dmoynihan — EPUB continues to be a viable consumer format for us, and it has been immensely valuable as an exchange format — it would have been much more difficult to do the direct Stanza integration (download to Stanza via your oreilly.com account) or the iPhone App without a standard format. And you’ll have to ask them, but AFAIK Lexcycle hasn’t “dumped” Stanza.

    Congrats on consumer, for me it’s more a curiosity. As to .epub for exchange–great, but OEBPS 1.2 has been the universal donor since ’01; epub is just a .zipped OEBPS 1.2. This is not something you really need a conference on, since most conversion houses build from .pdf and don’t offer much in the way of discounts for other inputs.

    Of course, most “direct from .epub” conversion shops only seem to work with files created by DigitalEditions, but that’s another story.

    Anyway, given that Epub poster child Lexcycle, per a conversation with Neelan, is now offering conversion services to the App Store as their sole–primary source of revenue, do you feel that condescension or browbeating was really the best way to promulgate the format?

  • bowerbird

    david said:
    > isn’t it interesting that all the nonsense about
    > one “universal consumer format” goes by the wayside
    > the minute actual money’s there to be made?

    it sure is interesting, yes… :+)

    > So you end up modifying your texts to
    > meet the needs of the device, and not pretending
    > the device must meet your needs, by supporting
    > say epub, a file format that does very little well and
    > is poorly implemented even by its biggest boosters.

    ouch!… :+)

    of course, even andrew has said that .epub
    can’t do justice to the head-first typography.

    > So enjoy the proceeds of your Iphone app,
    > buy the next round for Stephen Windwalker,
    > but please don’t try and tell me about the
    > virtues of open-ness, best practices, or
    > any other idiocies. The best practice is
    > the one that garners the most customers, and
    > puts the most money in Tim O’Reilly’s pocket.

    well, _there_ is some discussion fodder… if anyone
    felt like doing discussion, that is. but apparently not.
    i guess the o’reilly gang is prepping for their conference.

    > (Note also, it was only after dumping Stanza that
    > Lexcycle generated a legitimate revenue model.)

    more discussion material there, to be sure… ;+)

    ***

    anyway…

    i went to see how much it would cost me to buy the
    “iphone missing manual” content in multiple formats,
    and did i get some sticker-shock or what? $24.99!
    for the e-book! the exact same price as the p-book!
    ($32.49 if you want it both digital and ink-on-paper!)

    i guess o’reilly is one of those publishers who believes
    e-books don’t merit a cheaper price than tree-books…
    which is kind of scary. and ridiculous. and a reminder
    about just how pervasive the old-school thinking can be.

    but i’m not complaining, not me!

    no sir, that is not my intention! :+)

    no, that kind of pricing will solve itself, naturally…
    no reason for me to rail against it. it’ll disappear.

    so, on the contrary, i’m here now to say _thank_you_
    to o’reilly for giving me such a really-cheap-price
    on the e-book-as-an-iphone-app. i appreciate it.
    i really do. i still would like it better if it cost $.49,
    but $4.99 is a whole heckuva lot better than $24.99.

    and andrew, i can see now why you couldn’t give
    people the .epub version of the file when they buy
    the iphone-app. can’t give people a $25 product
    just because they bought the $5 “light” version..
    that would cannibalize your business, it would.
    it would be like a dinosaur chewing off his leg…

    -bowerbird

  • bowerbird

    andrew said:
    > it would have been much more difficult
    > to do the direct Stanza integration
    > (download to Stanza via your oreilly.com account)
    > or the iPhone App without a standard format.

    i believe it was easier for the stanza people
    to work with you using .epub because that is
    the format which they adopted as their own…

    but let’s be clear that _any_ format _can_ work.

    developers have built iphone apps around many
    different standards. some of ‘em use .epub, yes.
    but others have used plain old .xml, even .html…
    and still others store their text internally as .pdf.
    some use plain-text, even embedding p.g. e-texts.
    and others actually store the book in a mysql file!
    hadrien over at feedbooks stores all his books in a
    database, so for him, .epub is an _output_ format,
    along with any other formats, like .html and .pdf.
    i’ll build my iphone app around my “z.m.l.” format,
    just like i’ve built my desktop programs around it.
    someone could’ve built some programs around the
    docbook variant that o’reilly has used for a while…
    heck, one iphone e-book app developer has even
    stored his book as .jpg files displaying each page!
    (the stupidity of that — no resizing or searching,
    not to mention a bloated download — means that
    i won’t tell you the stupid developer who made that,
    but the bass-ackwards nature of it is a very big hint.)

    in other words…

    “the thing that’s so great about standards
    is that there are so many to choose from.”

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.teleread.org Chris Meadows

    @Andrew: Do we want a way for people to easily buy our books on the iPhone and get multiple, DRM-free formats? Of course, and we’re working on it.

    Well, that’s good, given that it’s already possible, at least as far as the ePub version goes.

    @bowerbird: and andrew, i can see now why you couldn’t give people the .epub version of the file when they buy the iphone-app. can’t give people a $25 product just because they bought the $5 “light” version.

    Except, well, they already are. All you need is an unzip application to extract the full-fledged, un-encrypted ePub book version out of the application file on your hard drive.

    Just right-click it in the iTunes application dialogue, select “Show in Windows Explorer,” then right-click the file, open with a zip viewer, drill down a little, and Bob’s your uncle. The extracted ePub opens just fine in Adobe Digital Editions.

    (Had I known this before I bought it and poked around in it, I’d have been even more inclined to buy it, since the one thing that turned me off from the app book was being unable to read it anywhere but my iPod Touch. Now I can read it on my desktop, too.)

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    I saw that on your review, Chris, very cool! Not sure why I never tried that, though IIRC the Lexcycle guys did mention something about this during our initial discussions (they do offer an encryption option, which we declined). Anyhow, thanks for sharing, and glad you liked the App.

  • bowerbird

    chris said:
    > Except, well, they already are.
    > All you need is an unzip application
    > to extract the full-fledged, un-encrypted ePub
    > book version out of the application file on your hard drive.

    um… chris? you weren’t supposed to broadcast that secret…

    then again, i suppose it was destined to come out eventually.

    up above, you’ll see i called andrew’s response “feebleminded”,
    because it tried to disguise the fact the .epub was embedded.

    then i said:
    > you are underestimating me personally (which, honestly,
    > doesn’t bother me) and your customer-base as a whole
    > (which, honestly, doesn’t bother me either, except that
    > it might be a path that you probably shouldn’t be taking).

    i dunno, maybe andrew didn’t even know about the embedding.
    or maybe he just didn’t want to give up the secret to the public.
    but to expect that an o’reilly readership wouldn’t discover this
    is just unrealistic. (don’t they encourage exploration at “make”?)

    now, of course, the stanza people will decide that they have to
    obfuscate the embedded .epub… and crackers will take on the
    challenge of defeating the obfuscation, and the whole senseless
    cat-and-mouse exercise will continue to play out ad infinitum…

    or publishers will pull back. or charge more for the e-product.

    or maybe, if o’reilly wants to truly exert some leadership here
    — take some brave concrete actions to back up their talk –
    they’ll just carry on, in spite of the potential for some “piracy”,
    and they will continue to make great sales of their iphone app.

    i wasn’t gonna spill their little secret myself…

    but now that you have, chris, it will be interesting to watch…

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.teleread.org/blog Chris Meadows

    Bowerbird: You didn’t read Andrew’s response to my post before you posted, did you? :)

  • bowerbird

    no. and good thing, too, because i would have had to
    incorporate my eyes-rolling-skyward-in-amazement
    reaction into my reply if i would have… :+)

    up above you’ll see that i was quite puzzled, wondering
    if i was underestimating andrew — if _he_ knew things
    that i didn’t know — or _what_ the heck was going on…

    there he was, saying that o’reilly couldn’t give buyers of
    the iphone-app a copy of the .epub file, and there i was,
    staring at that exact .epub file _inside_ the iphone-app.
    obviously, one of us didn’t understand the real situation.
    or else andrew was playing stupid.

    all i knew for sure is that i did indeed have the .epub file.
    and it was equally clear that if i knew how to pull it out,
    pirates would know (or soon learn) how to pull it out too.
    (the pirates have _skills_; i’m merely a clumsy blunderer.)

    so the hard line andrew was taking on not including the
    iphone-app buyers in on the safari bundle seemed silly,
    since the horse was already out of the barn on that one…

    so you can see why i was puzzled.

    but the “official” word is in. andrew was indeed clueless.
    and not — notably — because lexcycle hoodwinked him.
    but merely because he is insufficiently attuned to the way
    in which his electronic-product operates. that’s telling…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. or maybe andrew is _still_ playing stupid, i dunno.
    perhaps o’reilly was just testing how long it would take
    for the secret to be divulged, and andrew is the fall guy.
    when i am in a dialog with people, i would much rather
    _overestimate_ their craftiness than _underestimate_ it.

  • http://www.teleread.org Chris Meadows

    Anyway, I’ve put an abridged version of my review on the App Store—and they approved it. So the cat is well and truly out of the bag now. :)

    As that Folger’s add of yore says, “Let’s watch what happens.”

  • bowerbird

    that’s a little brazen, chris.

    i don’t imagine they wanted you to do that.

    but um, the experiment continues, i guess…

    sooner or later, all the publishers will learn
    that the best way to sell more paper-books
    is to make full text available online for free.

    but i’d guess that o’reilly would have rather
    _sold_ them that info, via some conferences,
    rather than _shown_ them by their example…

    -bowerbird

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    @Chris — thanks for putting a (great) review in. The whims of the iTunes review system continue to perplex me (as I write this your review is appearing within iTunes proper, but is not appearing on the iPhone App store), but I certainly have no problem with having this particular cat out the bag.

  • bowerbird

    time for a little update here…

    here are some instructions i had written up, more specific to the mac…
    followed by observations about applying this to _most_ iphone e-books.

    1. search your disk for a file named “imanual 1.5.ipa”, and copy it elsewhere.
    2. on the _copy_, change “.ipa” to “.zip”, and double-click the file to unzip it.
    3. there will now be an “imanual 1.5.ipa” folder. double-click that, to open it.
    4. inside that folder, find a folder name “payload”. double-click that to open it.
    5. next, inside the “payload” folder, see the file named “iphonemissingmanual”.
    6. right-click that file and then choose “show package contents” from the menu.
    7. you see lots of files now, including an 8.5-megger named “singlebook.epub”.
    8. “singlebook.epub” file is the one you have been looking for. congratulations.
    9. so copy “singlebook.epub” to a new folder, and view it in a .epub viewer-app.

    ***

    10. now you can rename “singlebook.epub” with a “.zip” extension, and unzip it.
    11. burrow into the folders to find one with lots of .html files, such as “apa.html”.
    12. examine these files, comprising the various sections of “the missing manual”.

    ***

    it’s worth noting that this same methodology works on _most_ .iphone e-books.
    do some digging and you’ll see (as i reported above) that actual e-book content
    is stored in a variety of different formats in various iphone e-books, including .pdf
    (classics), .html (white fang and many others), project gutenberg e-texts (bookz),
    .sql database (peace pilgrim), even (amazingly) .jpg files (name withheld to spare
    the stupid author from ridicule and scorn for such a brain-dead choice of format).
    you could also store the content in mobipocket format, an .rtf, or in zen markup,
    or you could invent a brand-new format and use that. formats are unimportant.
    i know there are people who seem to have dedicated their lives to their format.
    they’re sadly misguided. formats are dime-a-dozen. you need _apps_ for power.

    ***

    so, as shown, “extracting” an e-book from inside of a dedicated iphone app
    is a matter of moving a file from one folder (albeit deeply buried) to another.

    simple enough for a human to do, providing all you’d have to do is one or two.
    and trivial enough for a programmer to build a tool, if you had to do too many.

    ***

    of course, the .epub can be “copy-protected” by the developer of the iphone app,
    by squeezing it with something other than the known standard “zip” procedure…

    or apple could “copy-protect” the iphone apps themselves, again by using means
    other than the standard “zip” procedure to encrypt the program, or by developing
    other means of disguising the resources that are stored inside of the application.

    but then the crackers would try to break the encryption, and we’re back to the old
    cat-and-mouse game between “copy-protectors” and “copy-protection-crackers.”
    which is all just a stupid and totally unproductive waste of human time and energy.

    -bowerbird