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