The Nameless Horror

iBooks Author Rage

Via @gavreads, I’ve been reading this rage against the EULA on Apple’s sparkly new iBooks Author software. The poster, to my mind, and to the minds of various commenters, is up in arms over very little.

What iBooks Author is, for those in the writing world living under a rock, is a free page layout and inserter-of-cool-media program that lurks somewhere between Pages (word processor and basic page layout software by Apple), InDesign (Adobe’s full-on layer outer), and - so I’m told - Keynote (Apple’s PowerPoint). You feed it your text, format and arrange it, insert pictures, video, all sorts of interactive stuff, and it writes everything up as an epub-wrapped HTML5 doc (as I understand) for reading via iBooks. Or you can spit it out as a PDF for doing wherever. It’s a lot more flexible and a lot prettier than the text-only-really Kindle equivalents (KF8 possibly excluded; I don’t know much about it), to be expected since an iPad is a lot more flexible and powerful than an e-ink reader. I had a little play with it last night and it’s pretty swish. Colour me impressed. Not so much for text-only books, but for textbooks (clearly an intended prime market from all the press they gave it) and for photo books, good stuff.

There is a condition to using it. Specifically to the one-button “click to export to the iBooks store” function built into it. It’s not a secret: if you sell a book made using this software it has to be via iBooks, and you give the iBook store the exclusive sale rights to that version so produced. You can give it away for free, but if anyone’s to make a buck from it, Apple want their take (someone correct me, but as I recall it’s 30% across the board) and they want it via their storefront.

That’s it.

Apple claim no ownership of the product (there’s the standard “we reserve the right to reject and/or pull your book from the store” but that’s no different to any other e-store or bricks ‘n mortar outlet; you don’t have a right to be sold). Your copyright is unaffected. There is nothing whatsoever (so far as I can see) stopping you from taking the same content, assembling a different epub edition in a different program, of which there are plenty (though I’ve not found one that handles this level of designed-for-touch-device interaction and prettiness quite so easily, but hey; InDesign will knock out ebooks for you if you so desire, IIRC), and selling that however you want. The restriction applies only to the use of that bit of software, which is effectively a publishing front-end to the iBooks store. There are no other restrictions that I’m currently aware of.

OM fucking G. Those bastards.

Let’s compare that restriction to those placed on people publishing via Amazon. By selling anything via Amazon you give them the standard right-to-refuse, a percentage cut based on price banding, and also guarantee that you will not sell anywhere else cheaper. Amazon require a locked-in lowest price when you sell through them. Their Kindlegen software (which is - well, it’s a sort of converter for something you create elsewhere, rather than the full GUI layout and fancypants arrangement of iBA) doesn’t require you to sell what you produce with it (which again is just a conversion from somewhere else, not a creation made using the software itself; I use Scrivener myself) only via Amazon. But it doesn’t really have to; to read a Kindle-format (.mobi) document, you have to use Amazon’s Kindle software/hardware.

The end user is about as locked into the ecosystem as they are with iBA, bearing in mind iBooks is only available via iOS - if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you can’t read anything there anyway (and I’m not 100% sure iBA-made books would be readable on anything short of an iPad), and - say it with me again - there’s nothing stopping you selling the content you used for your iBA-made book elsewhere as epub or another format so long as you don’t use iBA to make that edition too.

Unless I’m reading it wrong, and I don’t think I am; the FAQ and EULA are pretty clear the restriction applies only to the iBA-made end product, not the content therein.

What Apple has done is open the door of the iBooks store just a crack (let’s not forget that unlike Amazon, it’s otherwise closed to companies that don’t have an aggregator agreement with Apple) for those who want to use their whizzy software. Presumably in the hope of getting a lock on the textbook market, sell iPads to college students by the ton and make an enormous pile of cash.

They’re not stealing your work. They’re not fucking with your rights. No more so, anyway, than any other publisher or seller. iBA is a piece of software for making stuff for the iBooks store. That’s all.

I would agree that they should make it clear on download and installation that there’s a restriction on sale for anything you make just to avoid anyone making wasted effort (though again, the purpose of the software isn’t exactly a secret), but the actual restriction… if you get your underwear in a knot over it, I think you’re insane.