Home Comics Apple's new iBooks Author sounds great—but is it?

Apple's new iBooks Author sounds great—but is it?


by Matt Demers

[Yesterday’s Apple announcement about a self-authoring tool to get books into the iBookstore sounded like a boon to comics creators and part of the whole DIY movement. However, as Matt Demers writes, it’s not all as rosy as it looks.]

In one of their much-hyped press events yesterday, Apple unveiled a new version of their iBooks with a specific focus on educational texts. When viewed on students’ iPads, these once-boring textbooks would come alive with video, animations and graphics. There would also be the ability to annotate and create interactive glossaries, possibly bringing a bit of future flair to the medium.

Alongside this update, Apple also released iBooks Author, a free Mac app that allowed an author to package up their book (including all these fancy additions) and put it up for sale on the iBookstore. Author would rely on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing tool, simplifying the eBook design process like Garage Band had for music production.

Watching this presentation, it was hard not to think how this would affect comics. Ideally, creators with content would be able to use iBooks Author to rig up a version of their book, which could then be sold to the exceptionally-large iPad audience. Adventurous parties could embed video and animations, allowing for easier access without as much work.

It would skip the arduous process of learning to code your own app (along with the $90 developer license), and would enable authors to self-publish their work. Similar to the Kindle Store’s opening-up of the literary market to amateurs, iBookstore could do the same for graphic novels and those who want to take advantage of the tablet medium.

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. As Ed Bott points out in a column for ZDNet, the End-User License Agreement (that long document you usually skip during installation) Apple has implemented with Author is extremely prohibitive.

As quoted from Bott’s article:

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.

This means, in blunt terms, that if you want to sell the work you’ve created in Author via the iBookstore, you cannot sell it anywhere else. The next paragraph, as Bott points out, is especially disconcerting:

Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including
without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.

This almost adds to the risk of publishing with Apple: your created work would gain entrance to the iBookstore once it had been reviewed and approved by Apple’s review board. If, by chance, it was rejected, you would not be able to sell what you made in iBooks Author elsewhere.

While you are able to export your work as plain text, it’s unconfirmed whether there would be any way to take the hard work of arranging text and converting that to another universal format, like an EPUB.

While I was prepared to espouse this new Apple development as boon for struggling creators who wanted to reach a large audience while “self-publishing” and taking care of their own design, I can’t help but think that a common creative question would be “How much am I willing to change to have my stuff on Apple’s platform?”

Similar discussions have arisen as a result of Apple’s approval process with apps: are you willing to put a massive amount of work into a product, only for Apple to reject it? Are you willing to change your work and creative vision in order to access a larger market? Are you prepared to lose your rights to your work if you want to charge for it?

I suppose that’s for authors to decide.

  1. This is a pretty shitty thing for Apple to do, even if you look at the exclusivity as the true price of the “free” app — but it’s not that big of a problem to get around, really.

    If you wanted to put books in the iBookstore before, you had to use other tools (because this didn’t exist) — and you can continue to do so. You DON’T NEED TO USE iBooks Author to get stuff into the iBookstore. It’s just a very easy way.

    If you wanted to develop for other stores, you would have to develop it in another program (no different than before) or develop it in both programs, if you wanted to take advantage of some of the interactivity that only iBooks Author (currently) lets you do.

    If you only wanted to develop for the iBookstore, then things aren’t any different.

    Since the iBooks format is half a step over — people ahve confirmed that if you simply change the extension from .ibook to .epub, iBook Author’s exported files will open in other readers (minus some functionality for some of the interactive elements).

    (Also, it’s worth noting that since it’s based on epub, Apple can’t have the same closed-off proprietary stance to the format that they can with the iTunes Music Store’s AACs — so anybody who wanted to could come along and reverse engineer the format, then make another program that allows you to erxport .ibook files. If iBooks Author proves popular, it’s almost a given that will happen. Eventually.)

  2. iBooks Author is, by nature of the restrictions built in to the license if nothing else, NOT a commercial grade tool. If you want to create ebooks for commercial sale – through any channel (including Apple’s online iBooks store) – use a different product. iBooks Author is hardly the only tool available. I fail to see the reason for the vitriol.

    It’s pretty simple: Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. However, for people looking for an inexpensive way to create attractive ebooks for non-commercial purposes, it may be a good option.

  3. You can’t embed fonts, or directly edit your CSS and HTML, either.

    It’s decidedly a consumer-grade tool, even if people have been (pre-release, that is) or want to use it for commercial reasons, too.

  4. The hit-magnet hyperbole of that legal analysis on ZDnet pretty much disqualifies it from being taken seriously. For example, that “especially disconcerting” clause simply says that you can’t sue Apple for declining to distribute your book.

    It’s a lousy license. It reflects the fact that Apple figures they’re holding most of the good cards and can include all the ass-covering clauses they want. It’s why open-source and third-party tools are a much better choice. But it’s an option that many people will find acceptable, even under Apple’s terms.

    But this kind of “ZOMG! Apple will pwn everything u do!” amateur analysis doesn’t help anyone sort that out.

  5. i love Apple products, but this is pure bullshit that negates the benefits of copyright and creative commons for creative people.

    hope the internet freaks the crap out and apple rethinks these terms.

  6. Maybe I’m missing something, but is it possible this clause isn’t saying you can’t sell your actual content elsewhere, but just the file that you make with their software? This doesn’t seem unreasonable. There’s a lot of video game creation software tat has similar restrictions, but if you make the same game with other software that’s fine. It’s not your content you can’t distribute as you wish, it’s their proprietary file format. Or is there more to this issue?

  7. I’m not surprised at the exclusivity but I’m sure I read somewhere that Apple owns what you make with it. Is that still true? Did I miss that above?

  8. Frankly why would a comic need this? the tablet craze is reminiscent of the rocket craze where when the militery wanted to apply rocket technology to everything and we got such famous duds like the Gyrojet Pistol. so now cartoonists have to be/know programmers to make it online?
    conceptually its really forced for cartooning to become interactive but makes perfect sense for textbooks and such, but isn’t iBook’s market share behind the Nook and Kindle so why bother making a comic for such a small audience? all it takes is a mega hit be exclusively available for one of the three to end this tip the scales and end the tablet wars.

  9. What should we use if we don’t like Apple’s IBooks Author? I’ve made some shoddy e-books in InDesign, but there was always wonky problems.

    It also seems like they’re saying you can’t sell the file in other e-stores. If you build the book again in another program, it would be fine..right? And you can still sell your physical book in stores?

  10. In the first place, this is disappointing.

    I’m pretty sure that their app does build ePubs, though, contrary to your post – it’s just that they’ve built the tool to make that pretty confounding process a lot easier.

    Since it’s a free tool it’s hard to slam them for restricting its use to their own store, but like I said, disappointing.

    An ePub document is just a bunch of HTML and CSS in a zip archive (with one file that can’t be compressed), but building a proper one is kind of complicated.

    I have to wonder what would happen to their license if you heavily modified the contents of the archive. I mean, at some point it’s no longer the file they built, is it? But I suppose their position is that if it ever passed through their software, then the license applies.

  11. I played around with the new Apple software and I think that the reason the license is that the file generated by the authoring software is only readable by the iBooks reader and not a standard epub file. It might be less of an issue of not being allowed to sell the file elsewhere, it might not be possible because of the proprietary format of the file.

    You can create a media-rich epub file that supports the epub 3.0 standard using something like Adobe InDesign 5.5, however of all the readers I tested that format of eub file on, only iBooks supports most of the features in what is supposed to be an open standard.

    Kindles do not read ePub files and require conversion to the Amazon proprietary format. While Nooks will read a standard ePub file, last I checked they did not support feature-rich files with content like you can produce in epub 3.0.

    I generally did not like the Apple authoring tool as it did not feature a balnk template and ot came with almost no documentation. I think for the average person wanting to create an ebook who maybe is not concerned with issues like compatibility the authoring tool might be sufficient, however if your aim is to have a book that is widely available this thing is not ready for prime time.

  12. I think for Apple to say “this free tool we’re providing you can only be used to make books for our store” makes sense. People generally pay several thousand dollars for the software to make ebooks for general consumption across multiple platforms, and having to distribute through Apple’s store is the payoff for using their free software. And this isn’t even non-standard practice!

    Think of it this way: When you make software for Windows, it ONLY works on Windows (Windows being the “store” in this case), and you have to rewrite the code for it to work on a Mac (Mac being the competing “store” that vies for more users). Mac does not have the license to run Windows-made software directly on their OS, neither can a software developer purchase such a license. They have to start over from scratch. A more specific example would be attempting to read a PDF in Word: Word either has to have a license to read the Adobe format, or you have to have both the plugin supplied by the user (by purchasing Adobe Acrobat Pro) as well as a copy of Word.

    This is more of a question of Apple preserving their file format and their software than of trying to restrict creators in their content (and yes, by creating “free” software as a gimmick to lure in a broader market, because even twenty books sold to Jimmy’s family members is better than nothing). The restriction doesn’t say that an author can’t reformat their book in another program to create an EPUB file or a PDF for distribution elsewhere, just that if you create a file with this specific Apple software, it must be distributed through their store.

    Free software is never really free, and this is something to think about when creators format their work for distribution on different platforms.

    Personally, InDesign has some excellent tools for translating your documents into various digital formats, meaning there’s only one main document to manage. But even there you usually end up having to make tweaks anyway. There really is no “one format to rule them all”.

  13. And an extra two cents: There is, however, poor wording from the lawyers who generated this document. They should have called it the “Generated Work” as opposed to the “Work” which makes it sound like the total creative package instead of the apple software generated package. A bit confusing there for the consumer.

  14. I was under the impression that Apple was supporting epub3 with this announcement.

    From a publishing standpoint, I don’t see the ibooks store as being that important to sales. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t seem to be as successful and prominent as itunes. Google books has a similar problem. It’s possible they might become giants, but even then, if the contracts are onerous (such as the Amazon CreateSpace exclusive contest), then why not sell it direct, just like cartoonists sell t-shirts and collections on their websites?

    Start here:

    Research the SVG graphics module. (Audio and video support is new as well.)

  15. Jose-Luis: If you use InDesign to generate ePubs, you can get small tools like Sixty Four, LLC’s ePub Packager to unpackage the file, then edit the contents manually in the HTML editor of your choice to clean up the code and fix the wonky stuff. If you already know HTML and CSS, it’s simple — little more than a lot of find and replaces to fix the InDesign-generated CSS. (And if you don’t, learning those is simple.)

    They also make ePub Metadata Editor. Both are cheap ($5 or under) and available from the Mac App Store and elsewhere. And no, I don’t work for them.

    Obviously an entirely WYSIWYG tool would be preferable, but doing it manually will always produce cleaner code.

    You can also use Sigil, and it’s free, but I think that program’s UI is god-awful.

  16. Ummmm….1) since iBooks author makes proprietary content for the iBooks store why does it matter that one cannot ‘sell it’ anywhere else? 2) Apple has the ability to reject clause in there so they don’t have to distribute pornographic books about building dirty bombs… This clause appears in all their content distribution agreements, but they’ve never refused to sell anything I’ve sent them. 3) The only reason we’re having this conversation is because they gave away free software for content creation 4) The kindle format is also a proprietary version of mobi, and has the same ‘right to refuse’ distribution clause, but everyone’s ok with it because they did not give away a free content creation tool? 5) I agree with the poster who mentioned the InDesign option as better than iBooks author.

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