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iBooks Author: Appreciating Apple's Intent

Apple's recent announcement and release of their iBooks Author tool was met with plenty of controversy. This HuffPost article pretty well sums things up.

My question is simply this: Why all the fuss? Apple's intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry. Just like Amazon and any other ebook vendor, Apple's goal is to capture share of this rapidly growing segment. In Apple's case, they've simply decided to offer an authoring tool that's capable of creating some pretty darned cool products. If Amazon were to do the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format would the industry be as upset? I don't think so.

How is this any different from the App Store model itself? Developers are creating apps for the App Store and they know they'll only run on an iOS device. They also realize they'll have to go through Apple's approval process before getting into the App Store.

Prior to the release of iBooks Author the content creation and distribution model looked like this:

  1. Author writes material in favorite word processor.
  2. Author/publisher edit and convert that content into mobi format for distribution on Amazon, EPUB format for distribution through iBookstore and others, etc

The exact same model still exists today, even with the introduction of iBooks Author. That's right. Apple's EULA doesn't really lock you into their distribution channel for your content. That restriction only applies to a "book or other work you generate using [the iBooks Author] software." All they're really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of their tool to create content for other distribution channels. OK, that's kind of annoying but far from the lock-in nightmare so many people are describing it as. Based on my interpretation, you're able to use the same content as input to the iBooks Author tool as you'd use for a mobi-formatted product you want to sell on Amazon.

(I should also point out that I'm far from an Apple fanboy. Anyone who knows me realizes I dumped my iPhone last year for an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II (and yes, I love it). I also tried to dump my iPad for a Kindle Fire but found the Fire user experience to be very disappointing. I'll probably make the jump to another Android tablet later this year, once key apps like Zite are available. In the mean time though, I want to make it clear I'm not here to shill for Apple. If anything, I'm currently in a stage where I'd prefer to buy devices that aren't made by the content providers. Samsung is high on my list, for example.)

Apple doesn't have an objective to move the publishing industry forward. They see an opportunity to reinvent this industry and they feel they can do so within their own, closed ecosystem. It's as simple as that and it's consistent with everything the've done in the App Store up to now.

Let's also not forget that the iBooks Author tool is free. It's not like we paid Apple $50, $100 or more for some authoring tool that we thought could work for all content formats and distribution channels. If the tool's feature set is compelling enough I'd like to think the other ebook vendors (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, etc.) will have to come up with something at least as powerful for their own platforms. If not, they get left in the dust and Apple gains share. Seems pretty fair to me.

In the mean time, I plan to do some hands-on testing with iBooks Author. At first I was discourged because you can't download iBooks Author unless you're running Lion. I'm still on Snow Leopard but an O'Reilly colleague sent me this link which shows you how to tweak a couple of settings so you can download and run iBooks Author on a Snow Leopard system. I just tried it and it works fine. (You just have to carefully read and interpret the steps since it's a translation from French to English!)


Kelly Monaghan

Let's say I have written a "book" in Word.

Then I take that text and create a "Work" in iBooks Author.

Then I take that same text and create a "Work" in InDesign, which I subsequently convert into EPUB format.

Have I not created two *separate* "works" in the terms of Apple's contract? Especially if I include one or two interactive features in the iBooks Author version?

As I understand the contract, Apple is only forbidding me to sell what I created (text plus software) in iBooks Author elsewhere, which would be pretty hard to do in any case. The underlying text would seem to me to be a separate entity.

What am I missing here?

Joe Wikert

I think you've accurately described this, Kelly. And that was the point I was trying to make in my original post. Thanks for reinforcing it!

Adam C. Engst

Joe is spot on with what the iBooks Author license agreement says, and the simple fact of the matter is that it doesn't make any difference for people who want to give their books away for free, or for the textbook publishers (who are happy to sell to a captive iPad audience through Apple).

But, Kelly, it is absolutely not true that it would be hard to sell an ebook created with iBooks Author somewhere other than the iBookstore. In fact, it would be easier, since selling through the iBookstore is much harder (and more expensive) than setting up your own ecommerce cart. Existing publishers all have direct sales venues, so Apple is preventing them from selling through their own carts, to their own customers. Remember, if someone buys through the iBookstore, that person is Apple's customer, not yours, and you have no way to communicate with them.

I wrote an extensive article examining the situation from the publisher's perspective: http://tidbits.com/article/12741

We also published two other articles about iBooks Author, one pro and one con. See http://tidbits.com/article/12739 and http://tidbits.com/article/12740

The real criticism in my mind is that if Apple feels the need to resort to such legal shenanigans, it implies that they don't think their solutions can compete head-to-head. Which is weird, since there is nothing like iBooks Author right now, and the Kindle Fire doesn't match up to the iPad. So why is Apple running scared?

cheers... -Adam Engst (publisher of the Take Control series of ebooks, which O'Reilly can help distribute for us, because they're not constrained by a license agreement like this)

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