Breakout Books: Apple Offering Low-Cost and Free Books

Apple added a new section to its iBookstore called Breakout Books Tuesday. It features self-published books, which are typically lower priced than those from traditional publishing houses. And there are a number of free titles — typically the first title in a fiction series.

While you might think self-published e-books are lesser quality, think again. Some of the more popular novels on Amazon are its own self-published titles. And in that respect, Apple is playing catch up. The categories include Romance, Sci Fi & Fantasy, Mysteries & Thrillers, and More to Explore, which is mostly fiction but includes a few nonfiction titles. Most of the titles are either free or are $3.99 or less. According to The Wall Street Journal, an Apple spokesperson said, "The Breakout Books editorial feature is one of many ways that we're working to help customers discover emerging authors in the iBookstore." 

So far the collection is small — I counted 78 books. Many of them are distributed by Smashwords, which claims to be the "World's largest publisher of indie e-books." The company has a catalog of 125,000 books, so no doubt the selection in Apple's iBookstore will quickly expand. It appears Apple is beginning cautiously, only including well-reviewed books. The founder of Smashwords told The New York Times his company nominated certain books to Apple. He said Apple's editorial team is making the final selection based on criteria such as sales and reader reviews.

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Apple is currently featuring Breakout Books on the front page of the iBookstore, and it will subsequently become a permanent feature.

I'm glad to see this for a number of reasons. I always like free things, so the fact these are free or low cost appeals to me. And given it's become so difficult for fiction writers to get published, it's nice to see this new venue for writers. A novelist friend of mine told me a number of years ago, one in 6,000 novels gets published. The production of printed books has become too expensive, and publishers are very reluctant to take the risk of publishing fiction. Luckily the Internet is democratizing publication and distribution. The traditional gatekeepers are no longer in control, and new voices are allowed to emerge. Some authors have made millions going the e-book route.

Plus, I much prefer reading books on my iPad. I love print books, but have collected so many in the past they overwhelmed my living space. I ended up putting boxes and boxes of them in storage.

In recent years, I've made a concerted effort to sell them and give them away. Yet I still have boxes of books. I had reached a point where I had stopped buying books just because I didn't want them taking up space. So now I have the wonderful luxury of collecting books on my iPad, without the cumbersome downside of storing them. Plus, I'm able to carry a small library with me all the time. 

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.