Yesterday, Apple announced the launch of iBooks 2, and an audacious initiative to modernise the textbook industry. As part of the launch, they also announced the release of iBooks Author, a free tool for creating and publishing eBooks.
I’ve not had a chance to play with it myself yet, but it looks like a very slick, well-made and easy-to-use tool for creating interactive books — something which has been missing from the market for far too long.
I’ve seen a fair bit of negative talk on Twitter though, mainly about the terms of Apple’s SLA and how books created with iBooks Author can be distributed. The short story is that if you’re planning to sell your publication, you have to distribute it through Apple’s store — you’re forbidden from distributing through any other means. Seems to many like a dictatorial move from Apple, but David Smith has an interesting take on this:
The real story here today shouldn’t be that Apple has ‘audaciously’ claimed ownership of the books make with iBooks Author but that they have created an avenue for non-commercial distribution that would exclude thementirely. That is actually unprecedented.
If I create a textbook using iBooks Author and then decide to made it freely available to the world (à la Khan Academy) I can do that without any restriction. Simple click ‘Export’ within iBook Author and the resulting file can be distributed by any means I choose and then loaded in iBooks. The mind boggles at what things may come out of this.
All Apple is doing with this restriction is saying that if you directly profit from this free tool and platform that we have created, then we deserve our cut. Which seems entirely fair to me.
Second, it’s about not wanting iBooks Author to serve as an authoring tool for competing bookstores like Amazon’s or Google’s. The output of iBooks Author is, as far as I can tell, HTML5 — pretty much ePub 3 with whatever nonstandard liberties Apple saw fit to take in order to achieve the results they wanted. It’s not a standard format in the sense of following a spec from a standards body like the W3C, but it’s just HTML5 rendered by WebKit — not a binary blob tied to iOS or Cocoa. It may not be easy, but I don’t think it would be that much work for anyone else with an ePub reader that’s based on WebKit to add support for these iBooks textbooks. Apple is saying, “Fuck that, unless you’re giving it away for free.”
Worth noting that Apple pitched their launch event at the education market, and they’re probably already a long way down the road with making deals with educational institutions (Apple has a track-record of quietly making individual, private deals in the education sector). Amazon et al have had a massive head-start in the ePublishing sector, but none of them have been audacious enough (or powerful enough) to make these kinds of bold moves into education.
Apple are doing a very clever thing here: they’re making efforts to put iPads into the hands of young adopters. Talk about brand exposure!