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Why the fuss about iBooks Author?

Apple's intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“iBooks Author: Appreciating Apple’s Intent“). It’s republished with permission.

iBooks AuthorApple’s recent announcement and release of its iBooks Author tool was met with plenty of controversy. This HuffPost article pretty well sums things up.

My question is simply this: Why all the fuss? Apple’s intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry. Just like Amazon and any other ebook vendor, Apple’s goal is to capture share of this rapidly growing segment. In Apple’s case, it simply decided to offer an authoring tool that’s capable of creating some pretty darned cool products. If Amazon were to do the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format, would the industry be as upset? I don’t think so.

How is this any different from the App Store model itself? Developers are creating apps for the App Store, and they know they’ll only run on an iOS device. They also realize they’ll have to go through Apple’s approval process before getting into the App Store.

Prior to the release of iBooks Author, the content creation and distribution model looked like this:

  1. Author writes material in favorite word processor.
  2. Author/publisher edit and convert that content into mobi format for distribution on Amazon, EPUB format for distribution through iBookstore and others, etc.

The exact same model still exists today, even with the introduction of iBooks Author. That’s right. Apple’s EULA doesn’t really lock you into its distribution channel for your content. That restriction only applies to a “book or other work you generate using [the iBooks Author] software.” All Apple’s really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of its tool to create content for other distribution channels. OK, that’s kind of annoying, but far from the lock-in nightmare so many people are describing it as. Based on my interpretation, you’re able to use the same content as input to the iBooks Author tool as you’d use for a mobi-formatted product you want to sell on Amazon.

(I should also point out that I’m far from an Apple fanboy. Anyone who knows me realizes I dumped my iPhone last year for an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II (and yes, I love it). I also tried to dump my iPad for a Kindle Fire but found the Fire user experience to be very disappointing. I’ll probably make the jump to another Android tablet later this year, once key apps like Zite are available. In the meantime though, I want to make it clear I’m not here to shill for Apple. If anything, I’m currently in a stage where I’d prefer to buy devices that aren’t made by the content providers. Samsung is high on my list, for example.)

Apple doesn’t have an objective to move the publishing industry forward. It sees an opportunity to reinvent this industry, and it feels it can do so within its own, closed ecosystem. It’s as simple as that, and it’s consistent with everything it has done in the App Store up to now.

Let’s also not forget that the iBooks Author tool is free. It’s not like we paid Apple $50, $100 or more for some authoring tool that we thought could work for all content formats and distribution channels. If the tool’s feature set is compelling enough, I’d like to think the other ebook vendors (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, etc.) will have to come up with something at least as powerful for their own platforms. If not, they get left in the dust and Apple gains share. Seems pretty fair to me.

In the meantime, I plan to do some hands-on testing with iBooks Author. At first, I was discouraged because you can’t download iBooks Author unless you’re running Lion. I’m still on Snow Leopard, but an O’Reilly colleague sent me this link that shows you how to tweak a couple of settings so you can download and run iBooks Author on a Snow Leopard system. I just tried it, and it works fine. (You just have to carefully read and interpret the steps since it’s a translation from French to English.)

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  • Jonathan Fletcher

    Well, Apple has sat back and waited for the publishing industry to get off their collective keisters and come up with a solution. Nothing has appeared yet that has placed ease of use and powerful, next-gen features into the hands of the creators, so they took their usual initiative and offered it. Sure, they’ll make money, and that is likely their motivation, but their heart is in creating (and selling, of course) products that people love, that set the bar for ease of use and cutting edge capabilities. If it takes giving the dusty publishing industry (no offense intended) a shove off the cliff, then I’m all in favor of it. I love having all my documentation, reading and multimedia content on my iPad. I want you guys to continue to provide me with great stuff to put on it. What I don’t want is for publishing companies to continue to live in the past and think of publishing in terms of being a gatekeeper. Publishing on dead trees, as well as music and video on dead dinosaurs, are all going to go away. What are you going to do about it? Just complaining about Apple is not a solution. If that’s the approach of the publishing industry then I will just cheer Apple on. Good riddance to the anachronisms.

  • http://commonsware.com Mark Murphy

    “If Amazon were to do the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format, would the industry be as upset? I don’t think so.”

    You are welcome to your opinion. I, on the other hand, would expect much the same reaction, though I would expect it less from “the industry” and more from “the people”.

    “How is this any different from the App Store model itself? Developers are creating apps for the App Store, and they know they’ll only run on an iOS device. They also realize they’ll have to go through Apple’s approval process before getting into the App Store.”

    Which is why jailbreaking exists.

    “All Apple’s really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of its tool to create content for other distribution channels.”

    Your choice of the word “All” is illuminating.

    Next, Bic will try to control the distribution of works written with its pens, with apologists saying “all Bic’s really trying to do is prevent you from tweaking the output of its tool to create content for other distribution channels… you are welcome to rewrite the entire book in pencil if you want to distribute to non-Bic channels.”

    “Let’s also not forget that the iBooks Author tool is free.”

    Free as in beer, perhaps. Not free as in speech. Had they offered a “$50, $100 or more” price point and not had this clause, they would have been universally praised. You reap what you sow.

  • James Katt

    You are SO RIGHT.

    Amazon’s Kindle books already have a proprietary format. And Amazon has the most popular format and eBook reader ever.

    If Amazon developed a terrific authoring tool for the Kindle eBook format, they would get a STANDING OVATION from authors and publishers.

    Authors make TONS OF MONEY selling on the Amazon bookstore directly. They get a much better deal selling through Amazon than by going through a publisher. They would love better tools to make it easier to sell books through Amazon.

  • Predrag

    …’Next, Bic will try to control the distribution of works written with its pens,”…

    The analogy would work if:

    - Bic had a content distribution channel that generates revenue for them;
    – Bic pens produced a specific format for authors’ content that is unique to their own distribution channel;
    – Bic pens were given away for free.

    As for jailbreaking, that is NOT why it exists. It is fairly well documented that vast majority of jailbreakers do it in order to install illegally obtained (pirated) copies of apps. While there ARE those who want access to apps and/or features not part of the official eco-system, those represent a very small minority of jailbreakers.

  • http://theworldsgreatestbook.com Dave Bricker

    The problem lies not in Apple’s use of proprietary standards, but in the fact that the HTML5 revolution (devolution) they incited was based on their claims that flash was based on proprietary technology and their proclamation that iOS/webkit would only support standards-based code. I guess it’s okay if Apple owns the proprietary standards; they can do what they want, but the publishing industry isn’t taking the bait. The overwhelming majority of publishers are holding out for ePub3-compliant eReaders and publishing tools. Apple may be able to offer rich functionality through their proprietary widgets, but if they don’t support ePub3 when it becomes ubiquitous, they’ll find themselves unpopular with publishers.

    Though people rail against amazon/kindle for their own proprietary approach, it’s at least possible to upload an ePub file to KDP for conversion. From a production standpoint, the proprietary format hurdles are trivial.

    Dave Bricker
    http://www.theworldsgreatestbook.com

  • Ryan Biggs

    Apple clearly needs to come out with some clarifying language. People seem to think that this software is a content creation tool, that an unsuspecting Stephen King is going to write his next novel using iBooks Author, and Apple will own his novel!

    Apple’s intent is pretty obvious. They are providing free software to help you convert your content into an iBook for distribution in the iBook store. You are welcome to make your book available on the Amazon store, but you’ll have to use a different application to convert it into an Amazon-friendly ebook. Apple’s software is just for generating iBooks.

    Duh.

  • David Larson

    Joe Wikert writes, “My question is simply this: Why all the fuss? Apple’s intent has never been to improve the book publishing industry. Just like amazon and any other ebook vendor, Apple’s goal is to to capture share of this rapidly growing segment. In Apple’s case, it simply decided to offer an authoring tool that’s capable of creating some pretty darned cool products. If Amazon were todo the same thing and create a terrific authoring tool for mobi or KF8 format, would the industry be as upset? I don’t think so.”

    It surprises me you didn’t comment of this really dumb statement. Is this writer really being serious? Can he be that dumb?

    When, in the entire time when Apple was under the leadership of Steve Jobs did any product emerge from Apple that wasn’t focused on improving the industry segment it was marketed for? Name me the product that lacked this as part of it’s DNA structure. I posit that if a product did not make a wave of improvement then Steve would not even entertain the idea. If the customer saw no reason to buy it, saw no benefit for having it then Apple would not develop it.

    What Mr. Wikert is saying is, Apple did this for market share, i.e, they did it for the money. Apple has never done anything “for the money” under Steve Jobs. Mr. Wikert needs to read Mr. Isaacson’s book, “Steve Jobs”.

    Who does Joe Wikert write for, O’relly Radar? That’s one source that’s off my radar.

  • http://Www.mediamint.net Claire Datnow

    Just published an Eco mystery, using iBook Author. fantastic! The book includes live video integrated into the story, web links and gorgeous hi def photographs. I am submitting the book, The software allowed me to proof the book on iPad, which was most helpful. The Adventures of The Sizzling: The Living Treasure, young adult mystery series, to the iTunes store today.

  • http://twitter.com/aarontroia Aaron Troia

    As an ebook developer I really wish Apple would call the current (free) version of iBA “beta” or “lite” and bring out a standard version ($20-50) with more functionality. I find the software very limiting.