Apple’s iBooks Author App for Indy Authors: Caveat Emptor

If you use Apple's iBooks Author App and want to sell your content, pay close attention to the EULA.

I’m a Mac user, and an independent author. I’ve published six eBooks, all of which are technical in nature. What does that mean? It means that my books have illustrations, photographs, and other graphic content that needs to be positioned on the page properly. You know, layout and design. In 2006, when I released my first eBook, The Photographer’s Guide to Capture NX, the iPad was at most just a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye. I used the best format available at the time, Adobe’s PDF standard. Now while PDF is a great format for files with specific layout and design, it doesn’t transfer well to the future of eBooks: interactive content. Moreover, the only way to distribute eBook content in the mainstream commercial channels (Kindle, Nook, Apple iBooks) was to convert it to some form of ePub format.Let me tell you why ePub is a nightmare for technical writers and photographers like myself. It’s a modified form of XHTML, which has some great advantages for novelists. You can use your reader to change fonts and their size, page background colors, etc. The whole concept of “page numbering” is destroyed with ePub. And for flowing text, that’s just fine. I don’t care if the novel I’m reading is displayed on 100 pages or 800. I just want to read the words in their proper order. Unfortunately, the convenience of ePub makes page layout with graphics nearly impossible, unless you’re a code-guru or a masochist.

Enter Apple’s announcement today for the ability to support textbooks in the iBookstore. I applaud this decision by Apple to turn the textbook (tech-book?) industry on its ear. Believe me, I have painful memories of lugging textbooks home for my homework assignments. My college Physics book was so thick, it could have been used as body-armor. Moreover, the ridiculous sums forced upon colleges and schools to pay for these tomes is just silly. I had specific textbooks in college that I had to pay over $100 each. And when you go to sell them back to the used store? Oh, sorry, there’s a new edition out now and we’ll buy back the old one for $10. Thanks, textbook industry.

But the other part of Apple’s big announcement today was the immediate availability of iBooks Author, a free application for producing interactive, iPad-friendly content with actual page layout and design. It’s Mac-only software at this time, but it provides a direct path for independent authors of photo books and technical guides to distribute their works in Apple’s iBookstore.

While all of my eBooks are iPad-friendly, the opportunity to produce interactive content is truly something I’d like to do. Moreover, iBooks Author is capable of generating PDFs from your designs, so you wouldn’t be forced to view the content on an iOS device, much less a Mac. Until we get to the End User Licensing Agreement, of course.

Apple, I love your products, but I want to smack your lawyers in the mouth. Because there, right in bold print at the top of the EULA, reads the following:

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.

You can read the entire EULA here, if you’re into that sort of thing. But basically, the way I interpret this statement is that any eBook “generated” by iBooks Author (which would presumably include PDF content), can only be sold through the iBookstore (Apple).

Now I have absolutely no problem selling an interactive “iPad” version of my works exclusively via the Apple iBookstore. None at all. But not everyone uses an iPad (yet), and as an author, I’d like the ability to sell a PDF version, too. But if I generate a PDF from iBooks Author, apparently I can’t do that. To quote Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”

Of course, I could choose to produce my PDFs using other software. I already use InDesign for that. BUT THAT IS RE-WORK! I HATE RE-WORK! So it comes down to a question of whether you’re willing to put time into creating an Apple-only version of your books. Clearly, there is a huge benefit to being inside Apple’s ecosystem. I’m frequently contacted by readers who would prefer to download my content directly on their iPads. I get that. But I also respect the position of those who either don’t own or want an iOS device at this time. So I’d like to offer them a PDF version, too. And wouldn’t it make perfect sense to use iBooks Author to generate the PDF version (it’s a built-in function already). Moreover, when you export PDFs from iBooks Author, each page has the Apple logo and “iBooks Author” watermarked on the bottom margin. Free advertising!

In my opinion, anyone taking the time to use a page-layout application for their content would want to leverage the interactive features of iBooks Author. But no one wants to do their layout and design twice. That’s why I’m scratching my head about Apple’s decision to restrict the distribution of content produced in iBooks Author. Sometimes, it’s not about content quality… it’s about content availability.


Check out Jason’s eBook, Field Notes: A Photographic Journey
Available as a PDF download from Luminescence of Nature Press

10 thoughts on “Apple’s iBooks Author App for Indy Authors: Caveat Emptor”

  1. I agree with everything you have to say above. The potential is huge, and I’d love to use this program to create some ebooks but it doesn’t make sense to re-do things twice for the end user. It’s an unfortunate example of “my ball, my rules” and while they are in their rights to do so, it sucks for us. LOL

    that said.. I guess I could make it for iPad now and see how it does in that venue. Then look at creating a similar version for other markets if there is demand. Hrmmm… though I’m likely going to use Blurb so that people can get a hard copy as well. Blurb have a function for converting the book for iBooks so that’s the way I’m looking right now.

  2. Although I don’t speak the language, it sounds like they’re simply trying to match the Kindle Select program with exclusivity. Or something like that. But the Kindle program only locks you in for 90 day stretches, so if you want to distribute elsewhere, you can leave the program and do that.

    But what do I know. I write commercial fiction.

  3. Thanks for this good/bad news. I’ve been waiting for software to do just this. Unfortunately Amazon sells so many more books than Apple it shortens the market for independent authors that need to use graphics. I’m going to check out the software, and the license. Does it mean if you generate a book with iBooks Author you can’t sell the same title (even built with another software) elsewhere?

  4. What I’ve been able to ascertain is that content generated with the iBooks Author app would be exclusive to the Apple Store.

    My problem with this arrangement, if true, is this:

    1) The Apple Store does not support PDF content
    2) iBooks Author app supports PDF export

    So, here’s this App that can theoretically save me time by generating both interactive (iBooks) and static PDF content, but technically I’d not be able to sell a PDF version of content that I have “formatted” via iBooks Author software. That’s a big problem. I have no issue with Apple creating an app that formats content for their store… nobody else has this feature. And I also don’t expect to use this App to create “ePub” style content for other online distribution channels.

    But if I can’t distribute a PDF version of a book generated via iBooks Author, then that’s a huge pain.

  5. Jason, you’re absolutely right. Doesn’t make sense. I am worried that if you made a book and had it accepted by iBook Store you might not be able to sell the same title elsewhere no matter what software you used to re-make it. I ran this by a lawyer friend in the tech industry and he suggested to make and publish it elsewhere (using different software) before Apple. This is a preliminary suggestion as he hasn’t looked that hard at all the agreements. Also, Apple can refuse to sell your content and then you’ve done all this work for nada.
    So back to square one. A great interactive book making program that is only good for sales through iBooks.

  6. I would say: Apple, nice try! What’s your next move to get more and more people into your prison?

  7. Tim-
    I think you misread. I’m not trying to be anti-Apple here, but I think they missed a good opportunity.
    They are providing FREE software for publishing content to their store. Obviously, it makes some sense for them to restrict distribution of iPad-specific content.

    My personal frustration is that I can’t use the same application to produce a PDF version to sell outside the Apple Store. The EULA doesn’t prevent me from selling a PDF version, only a PDF version created in iBooks Author. So that’s a bit of a hassle.


  8. Valuable information here to help us be alert to fine-print-implications. I have been looking forward to doing an e-book version of my present, free website novel Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad, which contains approximately 350 colour photographs within its 675 pages. I am looking for the best way to do this, and I thought the Apple application sounded promising, but I am not willing to go this route if it means giving up important rights to my own work that I might want to place elsewhere.

  9. Wendy-
    Apple has recently updated the EULA to explicitly point out that the only restriction on distribution is for the ibooks file. You still own all rights to publish your content elsewhere in other formats however you’d like.

  10. Hi Jim,

    I too was alarmed at the T&Cs with regards to selling any iBook authored with IBA, and obviously relieved when they either changed that clause or cleared up a misunderstanding.

    I’m currently working on a photography book and don’t want to go too far down the design process to find out that I’ve fallen foul of certain guidelines that lead to a rejection by the Apple quality control. With that in mind, do you happen to know of any resource that spells out such design/typography do’s and don’ts? As an example of the kind of thing I’m concerned about, I recently read that Apple don’t go a bundle on photos/graphics that have type overlaid on to them (as to why I’m not sure), as it happens all my images will be set out like this.

    Many thanks for any assistance and I hope you don’t mind this enquiry.

    Best wishes,

Leave a Reply

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

five × 3 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.