iBooks Author: What's the Reaction?

5 years ago

Apple released its latest app, iBooks Author with the usual fanfare. It's a simple drag and drop system that will take your document from Word or Pages and format it into a book. You can add goodies like tables, charts, a glossary and widgets to the book.

Apple is promoting the free app as perfect for textbooks for its expanding iTunesU. Megan Treacy of EcoGeek reports that 350,000 textbooks were downloaded in the first week of iBook Store. Apple suggests it might also be good for writers of cookbooks and travel books. However, writers of every kind took notice of the announcement.

Teen Girl with eBook via shutterstock.com

The app is easy and it's free. But nothing is every uncomplicated, is it?

First, the app only works on Mac OS X 10.7.2 and the resulting books are meant for iPad users. Secondly, the terms of what you agree to when you use the app and publish your book at the iBook Store and very favorable to Apple. Let's take a look at some of the reaction to iBooks Author from around the Internet.

The High End User Base Issue

iPad, like all Apple products, is the model all other tablets emulate. It's the leader of the pack and the most expensive of the tablets. Unless schools and colleges start handing out iPads to every student, the cost is a restriction on who can get books–especially textbooks–this way. Why the iPad Won't Transform Education — Yet by Sarah Kessler at Mashable looks in detail and the cost and availablity issue. She points out issues like textbook availablity in that format, broadband, and pricing for schools.

As for the users of the app who are creating these books, the latest version of MacX OS is required, and the app can't be used on anything but a computer at the current time.

The End User License Agreement Issue

The other issue everyone has jumped on with enthusiasm is the End User License Agreement (EULA). At TUAW, an Apple friendly blog, you can read a detailed description of how to use the app, which TUAW loves. Even though they love the app, TUAW quotes the EULA in detail.

As you have probably already heard, Apple surprised authors in the iBooks Author License Agreement. The wording that caught everyone off guard was in section 2 of the agreement:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

It appears from reading this that if you wish to sell your iBooks Author-created tome through the iBookstore, then you cannot sell it through any other bookstore — including the Amazon Kindle Bookstore.

In The Fine Print of iBooks Author, Victoria Strauss points out,

Here's the problem, though: because this requirement appears in the EULA, rather than as a separate agreement you can consider post-download, you are binding yourself to Apple's terms simply by downloading the software, even though you may not have known the terms were there before you clicked the download button.

Another tricky feature that Strauss mentions is that if you create the book with iBooks Author and Apple rejects it for sale in the iBook Store, you can't sell the book in that format anywhere else. You can only give it away free. Strauss clarifies that,

To be clear, Apple is not claiming rights to your content--only to the product you create by using its software. You don't lose your copyrights when you use iBooks Author; your text, and any other content you yourself create, remains yours, and you can use it however you wish--including selling it on another self-publishing platform (as long as all Apple formatting is stripped out).

Suw Charman-Anderson wrote iBooks 2 not a Silver Bullet for Publishers at Forbes.

My work isn’t multimedia, but if it was the question I would have is, why make an iPad-only multimedia offering when I can use HTML5 and a service like PugPig to create a cross-platform multimedia app? I can make an app for the iPad, iPhone and Android, blending the best bits of HTML5 with the best bits of native apps, without compromising on quality or having to re-code the wheel.

Liz Castro, an advocate of the EPUB format, wrote on her blog Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis in iBooks Author is Beautiful but You Can Only use it to Sell Through Apple iBookstore about the EULA, too.

I find that clause unacceptable and ridiculous. If I create a book, I want to be able to sell it anywhere I want, not only through Apple. I no more want to restrict my sales to their store than I want to restrict them on Amazon or anywhere else.

Frankly, I even find it insulting.

You can find the full license agreement by going to the iBooks Author menu, choose About iBooks Author, and then click License Agreement in the About box that appears.

Note that it didn't have to be this way. The files that iBooks Author creates are pretty reasonable EPUB files (masked with the .ibooks extension) and can be read in NOOK and other EPUB readers. You can unzip them and see the EPUB files inside.

I am very disappointed.

Just to keep things in perspective, when you publish in Kindle format, your book is only available on Amazon. This isn't an idea that only Apple uses. To return to TUAW,

For publishers who are thinking about putting their ebooks into both the iBookstore and the Amazon Kindle Bookstore, iBooks Author throws a monkey wrench into the works. iBooks Author's book format is specific to iBooks 2; you can't directly republish your book to work in the Kindle Bookstore.

That's not really too different from the way things were before iBooks Author came out. For ebooks that Erica and I have published through Sand Dune Books, we wrote the original books in Microsoft Word. When publishing to the Kindle Bookstore, we simply uploaded the file to Kindle Direct Publishing and the .docx file was converted to work in the Kindle Reader. To publish to the iBookstore, we imported the Word document into Pages, made formatting changes where necessary, and then exported the book as an EPUB. Some additional work was required in Calibre to get the book into shape for the iBookstore.

I won't go through the steps required to get a book published on the Kindle Bookstore, but note that it is much easier than getting a book into the iBookstore.

. . . Amazon is also pulling stunts to try to keep publishers from putting their work into other bookstores. A good example of this is the Kindle Select program, in which authors who agree to keep their works specific to the Kindle bookstore can have their books distributed through the Kindle Lending Library program.

Mashable put together a table showing the various tools you can use to publish ebooks, the cost, and the format they output.

There is a Standard Format

Yes, there is a standard format for ebooks. It's EPUB. It works everywhere.

Suw Charman-Anderson sums it up brilliantly.

But what we need right now in the ebook publishing industry is not more lock-in and more restrictive practices. It’s difficult enough to deal with the way that Amazon throws its weight around without having to do extra work to accommodate Apple’s control-freakery.

For the market to flourish, we need ebook distributors who respect standards and publishers alike. Right now, though, we’re stuck with near-monopoly rent-seekers.

Amen, Suw.

What do you think about this new publishing tool? Is it something you would consider despite its drawbacks, or are you staying away from it?

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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