iBooks Author and the freakout

iBooks Author icon

Tech bloggers and columnists are having a freakout over Apple’s newly introduced iBooks Author, a program that allows authors to format e-books using interactive images, music, videos, and spoken recordings. It was designed largely for the textbook industry, and offers potential that no existing e-book format comes close to at the moment.

It is also free.

So why the freakout? Because the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) stipulates that the format is proprietary, and that if a user wants to profit from that format, said user must profit through Apple’s e-book store and nowhere else.

Apple is not asserting ownership of content, it’s asserting ownership of a proprietary format. Writers will not write in iBooks Author. They will write in Scrivener, Pages, Word, whatever, and then import that text into iBooks Author in order to format it for publishing in Apple’s store. The text will always belong to the author. The presentation of that text, as produced with this program, will have a restriction: either sell it in Apple’s store, or give it away for free.

In essence, Apple is saying, “Here is a program that will enable you to create interactive layouts using media forms in ways that no other program currently allows. We are giving you that program for free. Anything you format with this free program, you can give away for free in turn. But if you want to profit off something you format with our free program, then we want a share of those profits.”

This doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. It apparently does to a lot of other folks. A typical example of the pundit backlash can be found at ZDNet, where the headline “Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement” tells you right away what you’re in for.

The author starts out by quoting another pundit, who writes:

It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty.

This is a false equivalence. Word and Photoshop are not free programs. They are not being distributed worldwide, free of charge, for anyone to use who wants to.

The ZDNet author goes on to claim that if an author writes “a work of staggering literary genius,” formats it in iBooks Author, and has it rejected by Apple, that author is then “out of luck” because this work can’t be sold elsewhere. No, that author can then lay out that same work of staggering literary genius in .mobi, .epub, .pdf and any other format they want, using any number of other formatting programs, and sell it wherever they want. (Note: the author updated his post to walk this back a bit, while complaining about the difficulty of maintaining multiple layouts for multiple formats. You mean like e-book authors do right now when they output their text in multiple formats for Kindles, iPads and Nooks?)

The only way this EULA would be as “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil” as this pundit claims is if it were the only formatting program available in the entire e-publishing industry and all authors were forced to use it.

What is it about Apple that sends so many tech writers over the edge, frothing at the mouth and spouting easily disproven untruths? I’ve never quite understood it.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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9 Responses to iBooks Author and the freakout

  1. Kas says:

    I dislike Apple immensley, mainly because i tunes hated my laptop at the time and everytime i updated my iphone it fraged all my apps. When Apple then went onto say you could only download apps it authorised via itunes i left them completely, the basis being if i’ve spent £300 plus on a device i’ll put whatever i want on it thank you very much (it rather like saying you can’t put stuff on your own laptop).

    Working in the IT industry i can fully understand some of the reasoning behind thier decisions, however i see Apple digging the same type of hole microsoft did a few years ago, everything they seem to produce has strings attached designed to ensure they monopolise the market and only allow what they want onto thier products. Now admitedly they are giving the program away free but i see this coming back to bite some people, hardly anybody actually reads the entire EULA, yes that is their own fault but i doubt any of your readers wouldn’t agree. They are full of legal speak which the lay person really doesn’t understand. I can fully see in the future Apple suing joe bloggs on the street for a slice of the profits of some book that gets made into a movie and breaks the box office, purely because he used ibooks to write it, whether it was actually sold for profit or not. Now if apple are prepared to plaster in big bold plain english, if you want to sell any output from this software we’ll be taking ??% of it, all over the download pages and in big bold letters at the top of the EULA where it might be noticed maybe i’ll change my mind.

    • oregon expat says:

      I agree with you that Apple attaches a lot of strings, but then they have since the first days of iTunes and judging by their stratospheric profits, it seems to be working well so far. Where they differ from your Microsoft example is that they are not trying to create a monopoly, but are instead establishing control over an ecosystem which invites creative talent from all over. The OS X and iOS development communities are simply fantastic, and a lot of individuals have profited nicely right along with Apple. Don’t know if the same sort of thing will happen with iBooks, but we’re just at the beginning.

      Joe Bloggs on the street can’t be sued for his theoretical movie because, as I stated in my post, Apple is not claiming ownership over the content, just the formatting. So unless that movie consists of screenshots of the book being flashed onto a cinema screen, I’m not seeing it happening.

  2. M. says:

    Uh-Oh. While I must agree that this guy went far overboard, I can understand some of these evil vibes, being e-books lover and Apple customer myself.

    As I can see it, the problem for me as a reader is that the format can be used only in Apple store. You see, all other formats are free to use wherever you want them. It means that if an author decides to use this format and sell a book in Apple store, I, as a customer, will pay extra for this wish. I won’t go into details, but these are my experiences, not only with App Store, but also with Amazon. I pay about 30% more for e-books from there. But at least Amazon is nice enough to sweeten the deal with excellent apps for most systems, with a nice synchronization and other nice additions. So I can read my books on kindle/iPad/Android/computer/PDA and this makes me happy 😀
    Will Apple do the same?
    And then, when an author decides to have their books available for free on their site (ie outside Apple store) and they decide to deliver them in the most popular formats, so owners of different e-readers can dl them with no problem, can they use this new Apple format? If they can, what with “make donation” button, will Apple make fuss about it?

    Living outside US I can symphatize a little with this ‘greedy monster’ part, although this has nothing to do with iBooks Author. While Apple’s stuff is produced the same way the other companies products are (aka in the same factories in China), the price is much higher for Apple products. I understand that the extra bucks I pay are for something extra delivered by Apple. This extra things are an extra support and extra services (and what services you can get by using the device is nowadays more important than it’s intestines and cool look), among other less… solid things. While it’s true for US (and maybe a few other countries), you personally know that this support does not work outside US. I pay for something that is never delivered to me. That’s a little unfair.

    • oregon expat says:

      Yes, the non-Apple support does suck. But we’re not paying more money for the same hardware and software. We’re paying more money for higher quality materials and (in my opinion) better software and firmware. Did my wife and I pay more for our Honda Civic than we did for our previous Kia Sportage? Yes, we did. But I sure am appreciating the quieter ride, better fuel efficiency, quality materials and more powerful engine. And I am definitely appreciating the fact that we no longer have to worry about our car not starting or, worse yet, leaving us stranded at the side of the motorway with a melted engine block. (Which was when we decided to buy the Honda.)

      Like most folks, I’m not into paying more for less. But I’ll pay more for more.

      • M. says:

        I like this car comparision. LOL. So Apple sells the best car and you know it. But they want you to fill this car only with gas recommended by them. It’s more expensive than other and makes the engine a little dull, but using other gas means your warranty is lost. And their car is made for US highways. In more narrow and curvy roads it won’t be as fast as it should be and it’s superb driving support system is useless, but still this is the best car you can get. At least it won’t break down suddenly. 😉

        And going back to iBooks. With Apple plans to digitalize all school books I can see this Apple store only rule also as protection of their income from competitors such as Amazon and their kindle.

        • oregon expat says:

          Of course I disagree entirely with your conclusions. Having driven cars of the two major makers, both inside the US and out, I sure prefer my AppleHonda. It is way more fun to drive and gets me where I want to go with a lot more style and enjoyment. And given the amount of money I have not spent on repairs (often caused by cheap gas!), and the length of time which my vehicle retains its usability, in the end it costs less. 😉 (Just to clarify: here I am speaking of Apple computers in general, not of iTunes specifically, which can definitely be a pain in the ass.)

          Re: Your theory on iBooks and competitor protection…oh, yes. Totally agree there. This is about establishing a market that Amazon has not ventured into, and protecting it from the beginning.

  3. JR says:

    I think the comparison made by the author of the cited article (iTextbook vs. Photoshop vs. MSWord) isn’t the right one to be making. A more closely related product would be Blurb. It’s slightly different, because you can use it in a more standard way–pay a flat fee to produce X numbers of hard copy books that are yours to sell on the ground as you see fit. But their e-books are produced in a manner somewhat akin to what iTextbook offers, so the reviewer screaming that “this isn’t a model we’ve seen before!!!” is wrong.

    I find the EULA a little sketchy, but most are (if people ever actually read them, they’d stop clicking “I Agree”). It’s a little troublesome that Apple wants to control the final product even when the output is to a .pdf or .txt document. But maybe Blurb and Hulu do that, too, I honestly don’t know. I can’t articulate it, but there seems to be something wrong with giving people the capability to produce a .pdf on their own machine, then telling them they can’t do what they want with it.

    So, actually, I had a long paragraph here based on an example of a colleague of mine who writes his own textbooks, but by the time I finished typing it, I realized the problems I was describing are same whether said colleague uses iTextbook or Blurb–he’d have to raise the price to cover the distribution fee. If he uses an Adobe product, he can raise the e-book price for one semester by one dollar and cover the price of the software. iTunes and Blurb prices would be consistently inflated to cover their on-going distributions fees.

    My own problem with it is discipline specific in that my target audience for an e-textbook could easily be students in India, and iTunes as a distribution point isn’t going to do it. I’d rather Apple just sell me the super awesome software and let me worry about the end product distribution. Also, I hate iTunes, it breaks every time I leave the country and doesn’t play nicely with my iPhone, but that’s another matter.

  4. JR says:

    It would be lovely if I could go back to that post and edit it to take out “iTextbook” and add “iBooks Author” in its place (you can tell where my mind is), but since I can’t, you’ll have to use your imagination.

    • oregon expat says:

      Actually I prefer iTextbook! You should suggest that to Apple.

      The part about controlling the .pdf and .txt output is sketchy. My feeling is that this will change in EULA version 2.0. It’s happened before, when Apple came out of the gate a bit too strongly and had to dial things back.

      And I have to admit that iTunes is not my favorite app, either. It works great as long as you’re in the US, less well elsewhere, and even less well when you’re not in the US and would like to set your iTunes for a different language than the one native to that country. Why Apple can’t manage that little detail, I have no idea.

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