The Problem (or lack thereof) with Apple’s Digital Publishing

Yesterday, Apple announced brand new software called the iBooks Author Program, which is an OS-X Program you can download in which authors or indie publishers can design and format digital books or textbooks for the ipad. This came on the heels of news about Apple’s new bookstore, where you can now buy textbooks on the ipad like any other books, often with cool new features, like interactive videos and demonstrations and whatnot.

More info on that can be found here;

But today I read an article tweeted by one of my more favorite authorly types earlier today here; about Apple’s EULA, the End User License Agreement (those pages and pages of text we all just click agree to and never think twice about).

What Apple has done with this new software is to say that legally, the book produced by this digital publishing app belongs to Apple if your book is priced other than free, and that the author gets a split of the profits 70/30. Which is essentially the same as app designers for the app store. The problem here is that Apple also reserves the right to deny your book publishing, to which you cannot then use the exported material from the app (which produces a file, just like a music file or a Word file) to then sell somewhere else on the web.

This book is different than your content. I’m a novelist and a writer. If I format my novel for digital publication on Apple’s website through their iBooks program, Apple only owns that file produced by their app, the “book,” not my content itself. I can still go publish my content as a new book in a different format all I want.

Why this is an issue: 

Hubbub arises because no other software puts these kinds of restrictions on the files produced. Microsoft does not say that you can’t use a powerpoint presentation because its through their software. This, critics say of Apple, is an unprecedented restriction, and is ultimately very, very greedy.

Also, people are misreading Apple’s legalities and think that if you publish your book through Apple, they take the rights to the entire content, which would mean you couldn’t sell it anywhere else, and so would mean if Apple turned down your work, you’d be screwed out of publishing your content. This isn’t true.

Why you would care:

Digital publishing is the future. Books aren’t going anywhere; there are too many fanatics who love that experience of reading a bound book, myself included. Legalities like this are paving way for the future of digital publishing, exclusivity, and the implications for independent writers and publishers. And if you’re an independent writer looking to take advantage of an easy publishing format, well–this is important.

But mostly this is a huge step in digital publishing, and many people think its an ugly one.

Why this isn’t a big deal:

Through zdnet, Ed Bott writes

Dan Wineman calls it “unprecedented audacity” on Apple’s part. For people like me, who write and sell books, access to multiple markets is essential. But that’s prohibited:

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.

Point one: “Essential access to multiple markets” is only prohibited if you’re so lazy that Apple’s publishing software is your ONLY means of formatting your digital book.

Point two: In software this practice is unprecedented, perhaps, but not in the publishing world.

Apple is publishing a book that you took the time to format through their device. This is publishing. This is a business. In the world of real books, you send your material to a publisher, and they cut a deal for the rights to publish that book, and tell you that you can’t do it anywhere else until your contract is up.

Obviously digital publishing is a bit different, especially with all the variety of outlets and file formats. Nook, Kindle, and Apple all have different formats. (The market right now is essentially a slow-moving format war that really just needs to find a universal, the way that .mp3 finally took over for much of the music industry). Because anyone can format a digital file for free these days, there are no big publishing companies snatching up all your digital rights for only one format.

Apple isn’t even doing that. Which makes them less “greedy” than industry standard for print books.

But Bott continues:

The program allows you to export your work as plain text, with all formatting stripped. So you do have the option to take the formatting work you did in iBooks Author, throw it away, and start over. That is a devastating potential limitation for an author/publisher.

Devastating limitation? No savvy author or publisher would want to put all their eggs in one basket with Apple, and producing the only formatted copy of your book through Apple is just ignorant business. Also, it’s not that hard to reformat your book for other file types.

With digital publishing, sites that I use like tell the author how to format your story to be published on any number of digital devices, which the independent author then creates through Word, submits it to the independent digital publisher, who then turns it to downloadable content for most industry leading formats. This cuts out the middle man working for the company and leaves it to the author. It’s not that hard. For short stories, this can take an afternoon. For novels, perhaps a couple days. They distribute your work anywhere you like and take a small cut of the profits. You can also take the formatting elsewhere if you like.

But Bott continues:

I’m also hearing, but have not been able to confirm, that the program’s output is not compatible with the industry-standard EPUB format. Updated: An Apple support document notes that “¦iBooks uses the ePub file format” and later refers to it as “the industry-leading ePub digital book file type.” But iBooks Author will not export its output to that industry-leading format.

My longtime friend Giesbert Damaschke, a German author who has written numerous Apple-related books, says via Twitter that “iBA generates Epub (sort of): save as .ibooks, rename to .epub (won’t work with complex layouts, cover will be lost).” Even if that workaround produces a usable EPUB file, however, the license agreement would seem to explicitly prohibit using the resulting file for commercial purposes outside Apple’s store.

Of course this is the case! It’s Apple. It’s how they’ve always done it. Their files (which, doing a lot–containing images, videos, and audio as well as text–necessarily demand their own file type) are always for their own devices. Remember when iTunes first got big? .aac has always only worked on Apple devices. It’s always been their business strategy, this is no surprise. And of course if you change the format you’re going to lose your formatting. .Epub can’t handle this new file design. And of course Apple wouldn’t let anyone else sell their media outside their store. It’s Apple.

What the future looks like:

This situation is only a minor hiccup; people love to hate on big business crushing self-starting artists. No little man is being crushed. Any publisher or author who has any idea what they’re doing in the publishing world (even the brand, shiny, new digital one) knows better than to fall into whatever “problems” might come from using this software.

Apple might be setting a new standard here for book publishing, but it’s no different than what they’ve done for digital music.

Digital publishing is exciting. It makes publishing so easy for indie authors or publishers. Its wicked cheap. What we authors need is an industry-leading format and marketplace, the go-to place for digital stories the way iTunes and Amazon are the go-to places for music downloading. We need somewhere that new authors can introduce new material, and where, if it’s good, it will thrive.

This well could be Apple. I hope it’s Apple. iTunes is great and this needs to happen for authors as soon as possible. And this new way to get published is easy and should be celebrated. The legalities are only a limitation for lazy authors who don’t want to format for the rest of the market right now and don’t understand that this is still publishing. It just looks a little different.


2 thoughts on “The Problem (or lack thereof) with Apple’s Digital Publishing

  1. James Ryan says:

    i can see where the confusion would be, but it sounds like a fantastic feature. i’d definitely use it, if i decide to publish.

  2. Kayla says:

    Very fair and informative. Thanks!

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