Jan 20

iBooks Author Licensing

Today Apple announced their plan on changing the way the textbook industry works. To achieve this they’ve released a new tool called “iBooks Author” which provides a WYSIWYG interface to building ePUB files. Essentially the rub is that while you can use it to build content and you can give it away for free in any of the formats you want, if you want to sell it you have to use the iBookstore. But let’s take a look back at the product for a second.

Now while there are plenty of people decrying this model and a few wondering about the legal practicalities, it seems to me rather simple. Apple give you a tool for free, if you want to make money using that tool that they gave you for free you have to use their store.

To be honest I’ve seen this tactic before where vendors lock you into a given platform. And realistically Apple is already there in a sense. They limit your ability to distribute iOS applications and limit what you can include in their store. Anyone expecting Apple to behave any differently in this particular situation is delusional.

Fundamentally you need to think about what iBooks Author really is providing: it’s a typesetting tool. It’s not targeted towards print like InDesign or Quark, it’s a tool designed to highlight the capabilities of the iPad platform. But essentially it is a typesetting tool in a world where you’re not limited to static content but can build interactive content. And at the moment no other tool really exists to provide this functionality because the platform really hasn’t existed yet. But that doesn’t mean someone can’t make a tool that does do all of this just like when the iPhone was first released the smart phone market didn’t quite have what the iPhone offered. There were products that had portions of the system: many platforms had installable apps, many platforms had web browsers, a few platforms had large screens for input and many had phone and data capabilities. None of them quite had everything that the iPhone offered which is what made it successful.

Now what is being missed here is that effectively the results of what you typeset in iBooks Author is limited in where you can sell it. What Apple suggest is that you can develop your content in another tool such as either Pages or Word and then finalise your typesetting in iBooks Author. You can obviously produce your content entirely within iBooks Author but you don’t necessarily have to do this.

However at the end of the day it is this strange sense of entitlement, this sense of how dare Apple seek to limit what you could potentially do with a bit of software they have given away for free. This reminds me of people lamenting that you couldn’t write iOS apps on Windows and that Apple should port it.

At the end of the day it is their ecosystem, if you don’t like it then leave. Certainly this isn’t the first time Apple have taken draconian steps to limit freedom and it likely won’t be the last. It also reminds us that we need to read these agreements we agree to on the sides of the Apple Mac App Store. All of the Apple developed apps I’ve seen on their store have all had an accompanying “App License Agreement” so I wasn’t surprised to see this one.

Audacity in putting the terms there perhaps, however it is hardly unprecedented. Perhaps the audacity is the expectation that a for-profit company known for their tendency for draconian restrictions on their software and platforms would behave any differently when creating a new free tool to create content aimed towards their platform. What is really more surprising that they didn’t create an entirely new proprietary format…they just added some stuff to an existing one (not quite as evil but certainly up there).


2 Comments so far

  1. Luke Bartolomeo February 8th, 2012 1:24 pm

    Might want to revise this article now that the actual terms have been clarified. You are free to publish (and sell) you book created with iBooks Author anywhere you want as long as the file is not exported in the .iBooks proprietary format. In other words, you can export it as a PDF or use the same content for the basis of a book you create with another tool.

    As the iBooks app is the only application that will read the .iBooks format anyway, this pretty much goes without saying. It’s a non issue. I think there was quite a bit of misunderstanding when the launch of iBooks Author occurred as to what exactly the terms of use meant.

  2. pasamio February 10th, 2012 4:02 pm

    Definitely needs an update now. This was something I figured was coming however as was pointed out elsewhere it was sloppy work to be so vague about the intention.

    I definitely agree that at the moment iBooks and iBooks Author are the only two apps that will read this regardless of platform but what I feel Apple is worried about is that a competitor, big or small, will pick up their format and leverage their ecosystem for their own profit. It is unlikely to be the Kindle or even the Nook but potentially a smaller competitor trying to find a quick way to get content for their platform on par with Apple’s new approach.

    What I feel is more likely the case is partially this expectance around getting something for nothing and being able to do what ever you want with it. In a sense it’s Apple behaving like Apple always does but somewhere someone expecting something more which is entirely baffling.

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