iBooks Author Wrap-Up

Kelvin and I had a digital conversation, John Gruber has been posting the dickens out of the ramifications of the iBooks Author EULA since last Thursday’s announcement of Apple’s iBook (not ‘ePub’, not ‘eBook’) authoring tool, and Ryan Stevens has shown us what the output might look like. After the cheering, booing, foot-stomping, and so on, I’m set to propose a series of tentative assessments of the EULA and its controversy.
First, Dan Wineman (via Gruber, and see Gruber here) is 100% right that Apple needs to take stock and clarify the precise force of its EULA (and make some changes, if need be). State in plain language what the EULA reserves, what it permits, and stick with it. ‘Uncertainty’ is more than a third of FUD, and Apple’s a strong enough company that it can sustain profits by being the best at what it does; no need to be sleazy.
Second, the idea that iBooks author is primarily iBooks Author, not any-other-kind-of-digital-pub Author, is pretty well established. Apple has produced a free app (a very excellent one, from what I hear) the purpose of which is to produce Apple iBooks publications. Got it. There’s nothing nefarious about producing such an app, nor releasing it in the wild, nor adapting an open standard toward the end of profit for one particular company. Apple iBooks Author exists in its current form for the sole purpose of developing non-ePub-standard output files. If it be granted that such a thing may exist (and other epublication file types exist uncontroversially, so there shouldn’t be a problem with Apple having one, too), then making it easy and attractive for publishers and authors to produce works for that file type should not only be a positive step, but should be understood as a generous step on Apple’s part. I don’t remember Amazon developing and distributing for free a Kindle-pub generator.
Third, I don’t see a great proportion of the ePub market needing the enhanced Apple widgets that differentiate .ibooks files from .epub files. If Trinity College wants to publish a digital edition of Bunayn’s Pilgrim’s Progress without animations, soundtrack, interstitial ads, or whatever else the widgets enable, no one’s going to miss the bells and whistles. So Apple has developed a very sweet app for producing digital texts whose range and impact will be unnecessarily limited by the EULA and output file combination (since only Apple supplies apps that can read .ibooks files). That’s a limitation that adversely affects Apple’s prominence and influence, without a compensatory benefit.
So fourth, it’s still early enough in the aftermath of the announcement for Apple to issue an expansive clarification and redefinition that wouldn’t put the least dent in their business model. Tim Cook meets David Pogue, Walt Mossberg, and a couple of other reporters and says: ‘That EULA was too complicated and too aggressive — so here’s what we’ll do. The next iteration of the EULA will say that if you produce a book/file with Author, you have to offer it to us to sell if we want. You can’t use our format and our free software and then cut us out of the deal. Second, if you want to give it away, knock yourself out. No restrictions at all. Go to town. Third, we’ll incorporate an Export option in the next version that enables you to use Author to produce a vanilla, standards-compliant ePub file, or a PDF, or a plain text file if you want — but as with any other work generated by iBooks Author, you have to allow us to sell it if you’re selling it elsewhere. This doesn’t hurt you — we’ll be your best vendor anyway — and if you want to give it away, again, you’re OK to do that. Partners.’ That preserves Apple’s marketplace model (‘make it with Author, sell it through AppleBookStore’), allows free distribution of publications with Apple’s software (still runs only on the Apple OS, and probably says ‘Made With Author’ in the XML) thus extending Apple’s reach without costing itself anything — those would be free anyway and their presence and good looks in the marketplace underscore Apple’s prominence.
No consulting fee from me, Tim; you’re free to do with my advice whatever you want. I just want to make handsome, clean, accessible digital documents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *