iBooks Author and Apple’s “Evil” EULA

My response to the negative commentary.

iBooks Author IconI need to start by saying how surprised I am at the negative opinions regarding Apple’s EULA for its free app, iBooks Author (iBA). In general, the concerns can be broken down into two main areas:

  • If you plan to sell a book created with iBooks Author, you can only sell it through Apple’s iBookstore. Apparently, some people think this is Apple’s attempt to claim the rights to the content. So not only are they accused of “forcing” publishers to pay their normal 30% commission, but they’re being accused of making it impossible for the same content to be published elsewhere.
  • Apple has the right to reject any work submitted for publication on the iBookstore. This is making people accuse Apple of censorship. It’s also raising concerns about publishers spending hours preparing documents that they might not be able to sell at all.

This is typical anti-Apple fear mongering, being spread primarily by people who haven’t taken the time to look at the software, see how it works, and see some of the amazing documents it can create. I was pretty much ignoring all of it until today, when I read a post by Liz Castro titled “Ten reasons I can’t recommend or use iBooks Author.”

My Response to Liz’s Comments

I greatly respect Liz. Her HTML Visual QuickStart Guide was a major learning tool for me as I began developing websites. She has been working with ebooks for a while and should have a lot more insight on ebook publishing than I do. So when she came out so strongly against iBooks Author, I had to read what she said.

And sadly, I didn’t agree with a lot of it.

I composed a lengthy response to her 10 points. Unfortunately Blogger (her blogging platform of choice) does not accept more than 4000 characters. So I cut it in half and the first half was lost. Fortunately, I’d composed it in a text editor (so I could see her points as I addressed them) so I still had a copy. I reposted it. The result on her blog, however, is a disjointed mess.

So I thought I’d present my response here.

If you haven’t read Liz’s blog post, please read it first and come back. I’ll quote pieces of it here, but you really do need to read the whole thing to get her complete point of view.

And please don’t think this post (or my response on Liz’s blog) is an attack on Liz. It’s not. I still respect her and her opinion. I just think that she and so many others are missing the point of iBooks Author. And it really saddens me that they’re going on the offensive to attack Apple when I don’t think Apple deserves it.

1. Apple has the final say in what can be sold on the iBookstore.

I see Apple’s approval process as a GOOD thing. Right now, there’s nothing stopping anyone from publishing any crap they want as an ebook and distributing through services like Amazon Kindle. This is a far cry from publishing as we’ve known it, where only authors and works approved and edited by an experienced, professional publishing company team would be published. Apple’s review process helps weed out the crap and make its library of content more valuable to iBookstore shoppers. While some folks might be fearful that Apple will not approve their work, I’m not — and you shouldn’t be either. People who can turn out quality work should have nothing to worry about as far as the approval process goes.

Now there is some concern over Apple using this power to censor content. For example, perhaps they refuse to publish a book that says negative things about Apple or its founders. (Remember how they pulled all of a certain publisher’s books out of the Apple Store after they published an unflattering biography of Steve Jobs some years back?) I’m not terribly worried about that, but I do admit that it is a possibility. Obviously, if there are documented examples of Apple not approving something that should be approved, I’d be willing to revisit this point. For now, however, I don’t think it’s an issue.

2. It’s not at all clear how far Apple’s control of an iBA book’s content goes.

I’m certain that Apple’s ELUA does not cover the content of an ebook. For them to do that would be akin to taking copyright. I have every intention of continuing to publish my own ebooks on Kindle, NOOK, and other distribution methods/formats, as well as in print using Print on Demand. I do, however, plan to create special iBooks Editions that showcase the special features. I have absolutely no concerns about Apple trying to stop me from publishing the same content in other formats elsewhere or taking action once I do so.

3. It’s not at all clear that Apple’s exclusivity benefits kids, schools, or teachers.

No argument there.

(You need to understand that I have little or no interest in developing for the K-12 educational market, mostly because I know nothing about it. Best for experienced educators to approach that market.)

4. iBA ebooks will work only on iBooks on iPad.

I think this point gets to the reason why the exclusivity doesn’t matter. If you use iBA, you are automatically accepting the fact that what you create with it will only be usable on one platform. So where else would you sell it if not the iBookstore? Yes, this does make more work for publishers who want to take advantage of the capabilities of iBA and continue to publish elsewhere — I understand completely that this will increase my workload and I have accepted that. I think others will, too.

I don’t agree that Apple wants control of the content. They’ve created a proprietary file format — that’s all. I addressed this point earlier.

As for iBooks not supporting traditional epub — that would be a serious error on Apple’s part. I already prefer Kindle for ebooks because of its multi-device flexibility. If Apple removed flexibility from its ebook reader app, they’d only make it less attractive. I can’t see Apple being that stupid.

I do want to point out, however, that if a book I considered buying on Kindle was available as an enhanced ebook in the iBookstore for a similar price, I’d probably buy it in the iBookstore. I see that as a competitive edge for publishers willing to do that extra work.

5. It fragments the ebook ecosystem and requires new publishing tools and workflows for publishers.

Agreed — this new tool will increase the amount of work we need to do to get our content on multiple platforms.

Right now, my workflow is pretty simple: create in InDesign, export to epub for iBooks and NOOK, convert to Kindle. This is a very smooth process for me. Once I finalized content in my latest ebook, for example, I sent it to my POD printer and submitted it to Amazon, Apple, and NOOK all in one day.

When iBA came out, I immediately began converting that title to iBA format. I’ve put more than 12 hours into the process and am only half finished. I see at least 3-4 days of extra layout work for each of my titles. Is it worth it? Well, until I get a title out there and see how it sells, how will I know?

6. Apple’s iBookstore currently serves only 32 countries.

Apple’s iBookstore may serve a limited number of countries, but let’s all consider how Amazon, for example, handles royalties. If a book is sold a country other than the six or so on a special list, your royalty rate drops from 70% to 35%. Apple doesn’t screw around with the royalty rate. It is what it is. I don’t know about you, but I write and publish in English only and don’t see a huge international market for my work. So this is a non-issue for me.

7. Apple iBookstore is not that great.

Agreed. Apple’s iBookstore isn’t as good as it could be. I think that’s because of its limited market. As I mentioned earlier, even I prefer Kindle — and I’ve been a loyal Mac OS users since 1989! Apple could certainly get more people using the iBookstore if they introduced apps for more platforms and allowed cross-platform synchronization. More users would result in more reviews, more recommendations, etc. But I do agree that the whole system needs to be revamped to make it easier to use.

8. It’s bossy.

I think this is a silly point.

9. It’s unnecessary.

Not sure what you mean by this one.

10. Books are special. This is about books (for teaching our children!) which in my opinion should not be controlled by any company or government.

I really don’t agree with your concerns on this given everything I’ve said above.

A Few Parting Thoughts

I’ve read a lot of what people are saying about Apple’s “evil” EULA for iBA and although there are plenty of valid points, I think the software and its ability to create amazing books really makes most of those points moot.

I say embrace iBA as a tool to set your work apart from the competition and attract new readers. At least on a trial basis. Rather than get angry about this free software’s limitations as far as distribution goes, consider the new market it opens for you by providing an easy to use tool for taking ebooks to the next level.

Remember — technology continues to move forward. This may be a great tool for today, but who knows what will come up in a month or two? Perhaps new epub standards will emerge with universal support, making something like iBA completely worthless.

That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

6 thoughts on “iBooks Author and Apple’s “Evil” EULA

  1. Just a couple of brief comments.
    1- I agree with you 100%.

    2 – RE: Apple has the right to reject any work submitted for publication on the iBookstore.
    Isn’t this true of all publishers? Early in my career I worked with a literary agent and both she and the publishers rejected many works. Why hold Apple to a different standard?

    I really enjoy reading your posts! Many thanks!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. I find it interesting that this debate is so polarizing. While I agree that there’s no black and white answer, it does seem to me that too many people are missing the point. Or letting the drawbacks — software limitations, EULA — completely overshadow the benefits — software cost, ease of use, publishing capabilities.

      As for Apple’s right to reject…I’m not sure if it’s accurate to equate thm with a publisher. After all, I think they’ve positioned themselves as a distribution channel. But maybe you’re right. Maybe that’s how was we should be thinking of them. Either way, I have no concerns about the acceptability of what I submit. I think the quality is there and I know the subject matter and content won’t raise any eyebrows.

  2. I don’t understand the part about no support for iPhone. I have iBooks on my iPhone and occasionally read a book there (when I don’t have my iPad along). I view Liz’s views as an extension of the anti Apple apps negativism. However, I don’t write books, so I guess my opinion is somewhat trivial.

    • I don’t understand that either. Unless its because the book design needs more screen real estate to display properly (and legibly).

      Remember, however, that epubs continue to work on iPhone. So if what you’re sharing is mostly just text, why bother with iBooks Author? I think iBA is primarily for the folks who want to make books that include fixed page layouts and multimedia elements.

  3. I am a fine art photographer. I have a photo book for sale on Amazon.com. It contains fine art, non-erotic nudes (I have two books like this previously published in print). Knowing how restrictive Apple has been regarding any kind of nudity with its apps, I would be seriously concerned the would reject my subject matter of iBooks. I would hate to go to all the trouble of designing a book for them to sell under these circumstances. Any suggestions?

What do you think?