huff_cover Since I posted my article on the OS 4.0 event yesterday, which mentioned that Steve Jobs claimed 600,000 iBooks e-books had been downloaded so far, a number of people have been chiming in on the comment thread questioning the usefulness of those numbers.

Brad Stone at the New York Times’s “Bits” blog has taken notice as well, puzzling over how many of those books are public domain titles. He does answer one question some people had:

An Apple spokeswoman at least clarified one question: she said the number did not include the free copy of the A.A. Milne classic “Winnie the Pooh” that was given to everyone who downloaded the iBooks app.

And he points out that Jobs is hardly the first to play the numbers game, listing a number of Jeff Bezos’s Kindle statistics of dubious utility. He also links to Kindle blogger and occasional TeleRead contributor Stephen Windwalker’s own lengthy entry about what Jobs’s numbers might mean.

I’m not so sure those numbers really matter in the overall scheme of things. Since Jobs didn’t say how many times the iBooks app itself had been downloaded, there is no way to know how many of those iPad owners are planning to read with it, or even guess at how many books each might have averaged.

There’s also no way to know how many of those e-books will actually end up being read. People are a lot more willing to download free stuff than necessarily to use it.


  1. Frankly,I’d bet that more than 80% of the book downloads were free titles. Owners were experimenting with the iPad and Kindle apps and wanted to try them out. Thus free books. (But Jobs won’t say- neiher would Bezos to be fair.)

    It bodes NOTHING about future reading of books on the iPad which will be very little.

  2. I think many of the skeptical reactions to the number of ebooks downloaded (at least my reaction), is simply that, as Chris suggests, the numbers are basically meaningless–particularly in the long run. However, while most of the readers of Teleread are smart enough to see this, your average iFanatic is just going to take the number and beat the rest of us over the head with it to prove how wonderful Apple is.

    But raw numbers, no matter how large, don’t really prove anything. When companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, or whoever spout off “X widgets sold!”, it’s just a pissing contest, and it’s annoying how it echos around the internet.

  3. While I agree that the raw number of 600K downloads isn’t very helpful in figuring out how many people actually bought books, or how many books each purchaser bought, or any number of other interesting stats, I think some people are too quick to dismiss Apple’s entry into the ebook market.

    I’m a long-time Mac user, but I’m also one of the people who started peanutpress/, and I also wrote (with my partner developer) the iPhone version of eReader and the B&N eReader. My feelings are mixed on rooting for or against Apple in this area.

    If we pick a number that was tossed out in the comments to Chris’s other article on this topic, that 20% of the downloaders were purchasers, that still indicates that Apple sold 120K books in a week. I don’t see that as insignificant, no matter which way you look at it.

    As someone who has been reading ebooks from handheld devices since early 1998, when we started peanutpress, I don’t understand this belief that it’s e-ink or the highway. The iPad is a killer tech toy, and so much more. In my ebook device experience, multi-purpose devices have always won out over single-purpose devices. We can debate whether a Kindle is single- or multi-purpose, I suppose, but it’d be tough to debate that the iPad is capable of a much wider range of tasks than the Kindle, mainly due to the Kindle’s e-ink display.

    I’m aware of the advances in refresh speed and color that are coming in e-ink technology, but those aren’t available in products yet.

    I don’t know what the future holds, but I would not lightly dismiss Apple’s ebook efforts.

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