Strong opinions, weakly held

What kind of precedent does iBooks Author set?

There’s been a lot of talk about the licensing terms of iBook Author today. Apple’s new application for creating e-books is cheap, but books created with it can only be distributed through the App Store unless they are free. Gus Mueller wonders about the precedent this sets for Apple’s other tools:

I really hope Xcode doesn’t ship with the same restrictions some day. “Binaries created through Xcode can only be sold through the App Store, and you can’t charge more than $15.99”.

Apple is free to distribute its tools under any terms that it likes, what I am pondering is what authors should do.

As an author, I can say that this doesn’t seem fundamentally different from signing a contract with a publisher. If Publisher A agrees to publish my book, that usually means I can’t also let Publisher B publish it as well. When you use iBooks Author, Apple is your publisher. If you want to give it away for free, that’s fine, but you’re not going to be able to sell a Kindle version published using Apple’s tools.

That doesn’t strike me as horribly unreasonable. The big difference, though, is that if Publisher A publishes my book, it can be sold in any bookstore, online or offline. In the new electronic world, choosing a certain publisher means that you are also choosing only one channel of distribution. If you choose iBooks, you’re also constrained in terms of devices. There are Kindle apps for most platforms, but iBooks is iOS only. It’ll be interesting to see if going with iBooks turns out to be a better economic proposition for authors, or more precisely, to see which authors benefit from going with iBooks rather than Kindle.

It’s a lot to think about, in any case.


  1. Except, you have the SOURCE text still. Apple won’t let you take the ‘compiled’ finished book & distribute it elsewhere, but if you take your source text & format it for Kindle, you’re good.

  2. Format using iBook -> sell in the IBookstore. Format any other way, sell where you like. This just isn’t that draconian.

  3. Usually with a publisher one signs a contract first. Then the publisher gives a writing template (i.e., the tools), and the author writes to the template. The deal has already been struck, and no other publisher would want to use the same template anyway.

    Apple’s arrangement feels different somehow. Apple is providing the software to everyone in the same way that it provides, say, iMovie or GarageBand. There is no up front contract. Instead, there are some sneaky terms in the EULA.

    I can see Apple’s point in that they do not want a competing service to design a reader to work with the files created by iBook Author. Apple does not want to enable anyone else but themselves to distribute interactive books. Under the hood, Apple is using HTML and JavaScript, so there is probably legitimate fear on their part that an author could create in iBook Author only to publish the content elsewhere than the iBookstore.

    On the other hand, as an author, I would be reluctant to invest all the time in creating a book using Apple’s toolset without an upfront guarantee that Apple would actually publish what I’ve created.

    Frankly, I would rather see Apple charge money for iBook Author and then let me be creative and do whatever I like with the output. iBook Author looks wonderful. It would be nice to use it as a general purpose creativity tool in the same way that we use Photoshop and GarageBand and iMovie and so forth.

  4. This piece surprised me a bit. I understand that there are parallels between a publishing contract and the iBooks EULA, but the two do seem fundamentally distinct to me.

    Probably because in return for the exclusivity, a publishing contract typically involves more return for an author: some combination of cash advance, editorial oversight, basic marketing and so on. Which acts to economically offset the promised exclusivity.

    If I understand the situation correctly, Apple demands the same from authors who wish to get paid, simply in return for using the tool they’ve provided you.

    Setting aside the fact that they’re competing with popular Mac applications like Scrivener – which I regard as inevitable – this does seem to be an overreach on Apple’s part.

  5. I’m not sure exactly what I think of it yet, I’m just thinking out loud.

    If I look at it from one angle, I see Apple creating a tool for publishing eBooks and being overly restrictive in terms of how users can apply that tool. If I look at it from another, I see iBooks Author as a tool Apple sells to enable to people to create books for iBooks.

    Obviously at one level, this is Apple competing with third party developers like Scrivener, but I also see it as a potential market opportunity for them. If I were the creator of Scrivener, I’d be trying to build functionality in that created iBooks-ready books that could then be imported into iBooks Author and published directly to the iBooks store, while also building in functionality that publishes to Kindle and every other format that’s reasonably popular.

  6. Rafe, you sum up my own thinking pretty well in your first paragraph. I too am still in the “thinking out loud” phase.

    It still isn’t clear to me that Apple is claiming ownership to all of the content in the way that some are thinking. Is iBook Author the full-on writing environment? Or is it merely the tool in which you assemble assets such as text and images that you have created elsewhere? Does Apple claim exclusivity over the use of those assets? Or only over the specific instance of those assets as collected into an iBook?

  7. Oops. I meant in your second paragraph. I agree that there are two ways of looking at what’s going on here.

  8. One way to create a book on blurb.com is to download their layout program, BookSmart. It’s not Adobe InDesign, but it does a creditable job. It only lets you publish on their site. You can create a private version, or you can put it on sale in their market place. You cannot export printer ready PDF or any other portable format as best I can tell.

    Apple, may be exploring new territory, but their software lock in approach is not radically different from other online publishers.

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