On January 17 I wrote "Apple to Announce Tools, Platform to 'Digitally Destroy' Textbook Publishing" at http://goo.gl/AezoI. The announcement is now official. Many people have looked at the announcement, and feedback has been lukewarm, at best.
Indeed, the new "iBooks Author" from Apple is revolutionary in several ways. It is designed primarily to create textbooks that are to be read on an iPad or iPhone or a Macintosh computer. However, iBooks Author should work equally well for all sorts of electronic books besides textbooks. It allows for using text, graphics, sounds, interactive video, and more, all in the same document. Even better, the document can automatically be updated at any time. For instance, let's say you purchase and download a geography textbook. The publishers can later issue an updated version to correct typo errors and to add new content. Anyone viewing the textbook while connected to the Internet will automatically receive the updates, which are then stored in the reading device. An Internet connection is not required all the time for reading books, only when first downloading a new book or for receiving later updates. Once the book has been received, it is saved in the device's storage and is available at any time in the future, whether connected to the Internet or not.
Even better is the price of Apple's new iBooks Author for creating electronic books: free.
So what could be wrong with free software to create new e-books? Plenty.
First of all, iBooks Author creates books in the EPUB2 format, but with proprietary extensions to those existing standards to enable multimedia and interactive features. Those interactive features will only work with Apple's iBooks app, not with other e-reader software or hardware, because only Apple supports those extensions. If the book's author uses any of those proprietary extensions, you won't be able to read the book on a Windows computer or a Nook or a Kindle Fire or any other non-Apple device.
The publisher can also export to PDF and to ASCII text formats, but that destroys all the interactive features. If exporting to ASCII text, all the graphics will also be lost.
Apple also chose to not support the new EPUB3 format although that is not surprising. EPUB3 is so new that almost no products are available for it yet. Still, it would have been nice if Apple had been one of the first to release an EPUB3 product.
However, the biggest "killer" of all has nothing to do with the software. It is the language in the legal agreement that is called the end-user license agreement, or EULA. Anyone may use iBooks Author to create books and give them away free of charge anyplace they wish. However, e-books created with iBooks Author and then offered for sale can only be distributed via Apple's iBookstore and nowhere else:
Quoting from the end-user license agreement:
If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.
I'd consider this to be a poor attempt at creating a monopoly. Apple wants to control the distribution of all products created with iBooks Author and to obviously earn a commission on every sale. I suspect this will discourage publishers from using iBooks Author.
I also suspect that one of two scenarios will happen in the next few months:
The first possibility is that iBooks Author will fizzle in the marketplace and eventually will fade into oblivion.
The second possibility is more likely, in my opinion: iBooks Author initially will fizzle in the marketplace, and Apple will be forced to release version 2. The newer version will be free and will allow for free and unlimited distribution through the iBookstore as well as by any other method the publisher wishes. It also will either drop all proprietary extensions or else Apple will release new reader software for Windows, Nook, Kindle, and other popular platforms.
As for me, I am not rushing to obtain iBooks Author. I'll wait for version 2.
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