iBooks Books

Two days ago, Marco Arment made an interesting observation regarding Apple's iBookstore. Marco writes:

The books available on the iBookstore are just called books.

Much has been made of the apparent discrepancy between a traditional book and an iBook, with Ben Brooks going as far as to call it a "clumsy" naming convention. While I certainly see Ben's point, I tend to think Apple is simply operating with its own best interests at heart.

Apple is not in the business of making physical books, nor is it (presumably) interested in developing an e-reader. As such, for Apple, an iBook need not be differentiated from its physical counterpart. iTunes does not label its e-book library as anything aside from "Books," just as "Music" is not labelled as anything more granular. Granted you can insert many different formats into these respective libraries, but the "Books" library, for instance, is solely compatible with the iBooks iOS app.

From Apple's official "What's On iTunes" page (pictured above):

The iTunes Store includes a well-stocked library of the world’s best-selling books — ebooks, audiobooks, and new interactive iBooks textbooks for iPad

The implication is that, regardless of your perspective, iBooks allows the reading of books, and any further definitions are held therein.

Regardless of vessel, a digital book is fundamentally a means for delivering the same written word as its paper counterpart. As Apple is not in the business of pursuing and endorsing anything otherwise, it makes sense to refer to iBooks as "books." Removing the preceding "i," for the consumer, suggests that their purchase in the iBookstore is substantively similar to walking into a Barnes & Noble, but more convenient.

Also of note, despite enormous differences, Apple chose not to refer to its textbooks as anything other than textbooks in the iBooks store. Looking beyond the PR and aforementioned iTunes page, iBooks textbooks simply reside in a "Textbooks" section. Rich media, HTML, and graphical styling aside, it's in Apple's best interests to avoid the discernment, and to sell a book as a book, and nothing more. The same applies to virtually anything in the iTunes ecosystem: magazines, music, movies, and television.

Ben rightly points out that we aren't necessarily at this stage in the evolution of literature, but, for Apple, such a fact is fairly irrelevant. They are selling the same words, chapters, and authors as any other bookstore. Competitors like Amazon are forced into discerning between a digital and paper copy because they sell both, this is not requisite of Apple, and it certainly makes sense to forego such a naming convention. When you buy a book from the iBookstore, in Apple's eyes, you get a book. Simple.

On the other hand, you could fairly argue that it might be in Apple's best interests to popularize the naming of a digital book as an iBook, but such an action seems callous. E-books extend far beyond Apple, just as digital music did too. As long as a book is in a non-DRM format, just as with music, you can enjoy it through Apple's iBooks software. Not all contained therein is an iBook, just as everything in the iTunes Store isn't an iTunes Song or iTunes Movie. Any perception otherwise would be confusing.

Of course there are a great many subtle (and some not so subtle) differences from e-book to e-book, iBook to paperback, and so on, but, for Apple, why make the explicit discernment when there is no alternative for them? Why endanger the sales of their products for the sake of explicit accuracy?

I don't mean to fan the flames of the topic, I tend to think Ben is right. But from my perspective, Apple isn't doing anything necessarily presumptive or wrong, it is simply acting in its own best interests, and that is certainly of no shock to me.

Just as buying a book in one English speaking country differs from another, digital versions will boast discrepancies from store to store. Calling an iBook a book, regardless of whether it's right or not, is just a much simpler, more realistic, and potentially future-proof thing to do.