iBooks Author Observations

Well, as a character in a movie might say, “Apple has gone and done it.” It being finally getting into the ebook market in a big way, particularly the digital textbook market. Amazon may finally get the competition it needs.

You can catch MacNN’s live feed of Apple’s announcements as it happened here:


That’ll be a summary of what Apple announced in NYC. During the day, Mac and tech sites should include other details. Liz Castro, ebook guru, also should have a post on the quality of code generated by iBooks Author on her website in a few days:


Apple has hit the ground running. The iBooks update for iDevices was available during the speech. It adds a number of much-need features to their iDevice reader. As far as I know, there’s been no announcement of a reader app for Macs, but I doubt they can avoid having one now. Parents of students with iBookstore textbooks will be screaming bloody murder if they have to buy an iPad, when they’ve already got a perfectly good Mac in the home.

Apple has also not only announced a full-featured iBooks Author app (Mac only), it became available within minutes of the end of the presentation. It’s free, and I’ve already downloaded a copy. Here are my initial observations.

The ebooks you create with this app can look absolutely gorgeous. There are templates that help create beautiful text with pictures, graphics and interactivity. Think of Pages, but specifically intended to create ebooks for iPads and (we can hope) with near error-free export to the iBookstores version of epub.

Judging by the help file, to get your Scrivener documents into it, you’ll need to either cut and paste, seeing all your formatting stripped out, including italic/bold, or export each chapter from Scrivener as a Word document. The only import feature it seems to have is under the Insert menu: “Chapter from a Pages or Word document.” The chapter limitation may come from the fact that the app needs to understand chapter breaks to create the contents.

In one respect, Apple is behaving like Amazon, wanting exclusivity. The software license includes these terms:

Since it’s part of the iBooks Author software license, I’m assuming that ‘only through Apple’ restriction only applies to the specific formatting and layout created by iBooks Author and not to the content itself. They don’t want you tweaking the epub output of this app and selling the result for B&N Nooks.

I am assuming you can use other software to layout that same ebook for Amazon Kindles and B&N Nooks. But keep in mind that that is my interpretation of the software agreement and one that’s likely to hold up in court (i.e. Apple isn’t claiming an exclusive right to publish your book). That said, Apple’s license agreement is the nasty one-way sort typically created by corporate lawyers. It’s not like a contract that’s subject to negotiation between two parties, so it doesn’t include “but this doesn’t mean” provisions that you, I or our lawyers would insist on.

I’m not particularly worried about that restriction. I own 1,000 ISBN, purchased in 2000 when they were still cheap (60 cents each in that quantity). I can afford to give hardware platforms separate ISBNs like greedy Bowker, the seller of ISBNs in the U.S. wants. One for Apple, one for Amazon and perhaps one for everyone else. That gives me the freedom to make each a bit different. But for those who don’t own a large block of ISBNs, that approach could get pricey.

Seattle is socked in with snow, so today I’ll probably spend time that I should spend writing playing around with importing… err inserting text from a William Morris ebook I’ve been working on in Scrivener into the iBooks Author. It’s one I want to look good. I’ll report back on anything I discover.

In the meantime, feel free to make your own comments on the news stores about the entire textbook distribution scheme Apple has announced or your own observations about the app, available free from Apple’s app store. Much of Apple’s purpose revolved around school textbooks, something I’ve not commented on. If you’re a teacher, you might comment on that. It appears to be powerful enough to let individual teachers create their own iTunes university-like classes, ebooks, notes and all.

–Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

Well I was hoping that it could output to epub, but no. It’s a proprietary .iba file, which when renamed to .zip lets you extract and see the contents. The zip contains nothing more than thumbnails, an xml file (which doesn’t have any html in it), a .pdf preview of the file, and a color profile file. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I was hoping that I could make plain old .epub’s with some nice chapter headings. Sigh… back to editing my .epub’s with textedit.

Thanks for details about what Apple is doing internally. It sounds like they’re taking the proprietary route like Amazon, which is frustrating. They must be doing the conversion to their form of epub when an author uploads to the iBookstore or transfers a version direct to an iPad. You might see if you can grab an epub version off an iPad.

We’re probably years away from having any sort of standard for ebooks. It’s like the early days of PCs (pre-DOS), where every computer had it’s own way of formatting floppies. IBM/Microsoft changed that, but there’s no equivalent to them in today’s market.

You write epub with Textedit? That really hard-core. It’s like growing and hunting for your food. One of my goals as a micro-publisher is to avoid any dabbling in the code. What you see is what you get is my dream.

I’ve got one little title in the iBookstore via Smashwords. Six months ago, it was selling better for the Nook than for iPads, so I wasn’t that motivated to go direct to the iBookstore. I checked again a few days ago and now most of the sales are on the iBookstore. Perhaps I should go direct to Apple. A lot of iPads are being sold now. A big market could mean big sales.


First impression of the iBooks Author app from AppleInsider:

[i]"Just using the built in functionality, iBooks Authors allows anyone to create interactive books, with a focus on creating immersive textbooks. By incorporating standards-based Dashboard Widgets, which are created from HTML, CSS and JavaScript (and can be built using Apple’s Dashcode development tool), authors and publishers can develop their own novel types of interactivity.

The new app opens up lots of opportunities for anyone wanting to publish professional looking material with automated reference features (including an indexed Glossary of terms and an easily searchable Table of Contents) and learning tools, and promised to make iPads in education even more useful and customizable."[/i]

First Look: Apple’s new iBooks Author

If you go to File > Export and choose the iBooks format, that creates an .ibooks file that is very much like an .epub file - in fact, if you rename it to .epub, it will open in an e-book editor (if you unzip it, you will see it is pretty much the same as the .epub format). I assume that the .ibooks format is just Apple’s extension of the .epub format, like .rtfd is their extension of the .rtf format.

It is a great shame that iBooks Author can’t even open an .epub file as the basis for a project, seeing as it is generating files based on .epub and provides a WYSIWYG editor. But then import in general is a pain, and feels very much like a 1.0 implementation - as Michael says, you can only import chapters, not a whole book. If you try to import an entire text, it will appear as one long text and there is currently no way of splitting it up other than copy and paste. So, at the moment getting existing work into iBooks Author isn’t great. I’ve got some ideas for a Scrivener export (mainly as separate chapters) which I’m looking into at the moment.

It’s also a shame that we are once more moving away from standards. .epub 3.0 has only just been published, but already Apple are diverging from that and obviously Amazon are out on their own with the Kindle format too. At least an .epub export would have been nice. But iBooks Author, as the name makes clear, is very much about pushing the iBooks platform. I can imagine it doing well - I’m thinking of an iPad built into every desk; then you’d pretty much have the school room from Starship Troopers. Personally I’d still prefer a Kindle with e-ink for reading books, but I guess one of the reasons Apple is going after the textbook market is that they can’t compete with Amazon for the general reading market.

Still, if you like Keynote then it’s a nice tool for 1.0, and I’m sure it will make a lot of people who want to self-publish happy. It must be nice to be able to afford to give your software away for free, knowing that it will lead to bigger profits…

All the best,

One of the biggest current flaws in iBooks Author is that it’ll only see a chapter as a chapter for the template if that chapter’s text comes in as a single file. Have multiple chapters in the same Word-formatted file and they come in as one chapter. I suspect this has something to do with the workflow around major publishers. This app seems to have been designed with their input only.

For me, that’s a pain. The Scrivener book I’m working on now has almost 60 short chapters. Exporting each one individually from Scrivener and individually into iBooks Author would be a tedious pain.

I just did a check though, and the good news is that drag-and-drop of multiple docx files will bring each one in as its own chapter and in the sorted order they had in OS X’s file system. So if Keith creates a compile for iBooks Author export scheme that exports each chapter as a numbered, sequential file, then it should import correctly in one pass. Also iBooks Author uses that filename as the name for the chapter, so exporting chapters as a numbered sequence plus the chapter name in Scrivener should make it easy to get the chapter names right.

Speaking of standards, one technical reviewer claimed that, when an author publishes his book from within iBooks Author, what Apple gets isn’t a file already formatted for iPads. It’s a file that’s the same as or much like the one that iBooks Author is saving for its own use. If true, that means that Apple is converting that file to its own extension of EPUB itself. That has interesting implications:

Apple can easily tweak any problems with the conversion process without issuing a new version of iBooks Author and making sure every author is using it. Formatting fixes are at their end, including fixes to books that are already in their store.

Over time, Apple can ‘evolve’ their extension of EPUB to more closely match any standards that develop. Today, to offer Feature X, they must do something EPUB 3.0 doesn’t offer. But a year or two from now, when EPUB does offer that feature, they can: 1. Update their iBooks reader to understand the standard. 2. Update all their titles to the new standard using the original iBooks Author file as the source, and 3. Notify everyone who’s bought the ebook and upgraded their reader that they can get a revised version of the book that’s more standards compliant.

This might explain why in their iBooks Author announcement they referred to people owning their book ‘forever.’ That’s not likely or possible if ebook formatting standards evolve. It is possible if Apple can keep compiling that original iBooks Author source into newer versions of existing ebooks.

It’s a bit like a Haitian missionary I once heard speak. The original Haitian version of French was a strange beast, he said, a language centered on the imperative because, as slaves, orders were most of what Haitians heard. Over time, because of their school system and the influence of media, Haitian French has began to get closer to standard French. To deal with that, Haitian missionaries create a new version of the most common Bible translation every decade or so, following as Haitian French moves closer to standard French.

That’s roughly what I suspect Apple intends to do. As epublishing standards get more powerful and more well-established, they’ll offer more up-to-date versions of more standards compliant books for more feature-rich versions of the iBooks app on more powerful iPads. If true, it’s a very clever move. I’m not sure Amazon is going to be able to match that. The ebook you buy from Amazon may appear poorly or not at all on the Kindle you buy five years from now.

And keep in mind one very major difference between Amazon’s marketing and that of Apple. Some of Amazon’s customers get their purchases via cellular data, with Amazon (and the publisher) absorbing the cost. Amazon has a financial incentive to keep ebook files small and their formatting simple. Because Apple’s scheme has users pay for data transfers, it can be more generous with file sizes and upgrades. In the long term, I suspect that offers an advantage to Apple if Amazon doesn’t abandon the free cellular download policy that’s one of the best features of Kindles for frequent travelers.

–Mike Perry, Seattle

ars technica has an excellent article on the iBooks Author end user agreement:

arstechnica.com/apple/news/2012/ … ncerns.ars

Here’s a sample:

Other aspects bring up the possibility that parts of Apple’s contract are ‘so bad they’re good,’ meaning that, if challenged in court or in the public arena the bad aspects could result in Apple also having to drop more restrictive features that it might have gotten away with had it left out the bad parts. Think of Microsoft in the mid-nineties. Its efforts to win the browser wars ending up with an anti-trust defeat in court than meant legal restrictions that extended far beyond browsers.

All in all, both Apple and Amazon’s contracts, by trying to limit an author’s ability to set distribution and costs, seem in the long run to be clearly foolish and perhaps illegal. The very fact that an author/publisher has to create different versions, often with a different look, for Amazon and for Apple means that a court may conclude that gives them right to charge a different price at Amazon and Apple. Even the requirement for a separate ISBN implies that, since the basic purpose of an ISBN is to tag a product with a price.

Personally, my primary concern is that Apple’s likely to get quirky about what books it allows in the iBookstore much like it has been quirky about the apps is allows. And since in that Apple seems to be clearly influenced by its contracts with cellular providers, it’s possible that a cheaper and better textbook that competes with one of the large textbook companies might be kept out.

And all this reflects another disturbing trend. When bookselling meant mostly small bookstores, there was little reason for a minor author to worry if those stores didn’t carry his book on their limited shelf space. The vast majority of authors didn’t have their books on the shelves, customers didn’t expect to find them there, and the stores were happy to special order a book.

With book megastores, that began to change. The fact that there was much more shelf space meant that being left out was a more negative strike against a book. Some people have also told me that the staff at such stores seem less willing to order books not in their warehouses. But still, if you had a distribution system, even if that system was just a stack of books in your garage and the U.S. Mail, you could reach your customers. It just took longer.

But the system that’s developing for online bookstores is a bit more disturbing. People already think that a book that isn’t in Amazon doesn’t exist, even it Amazon has it and is merely hiding it with their search system in order to sell more pricy books. At Amazon and at the iBookstore, there’s no clerk to go to who can special order a book for you. The shelves at Amazon and (digitally) the iBookstore may be larger. But if you’re kept from those shelves, you’re far more excluded from distribution than if you’re not in Bob’s Little Bookstore.

That’s why these efforts by Amazon and Apple to assume a greater role than that of a traditional retailer bother writers and, I suspect, it is why some of them have overreacted to Apple’s iBookstore Author EULA. They know something is going on that’s not necessarily to their advantage and they read more into a contract than Apple intended or that a court would let them enforce.

–Mike Perry, Seattle

I sort of agree with you that some of us may have overreacted, that perhaps Apple did not intend what was written and the courts probably would not allow enforcement. On that persnickety other hand, what happens if we do not complain, object, resist?

Will Apple, or any other large corporation, circulate an internal memo like this: “The public has accepted our ambiguous wording without a murmur, which is odd but not unprecedented. Such wording, however, represents a potential disservice to our loyal customer base, and it is in our best interest as well as theirs to prevent its recurrence. Ascertain in future that every EULA neither makes nor appears to make unreasonable or unsustainable demands, does not inhibit artistic endeavor, and is full compliance with the universal laws of common decency and common sense.”

If you believe that, by all means do not object. Don’t even mention it. Such ambiguity and the threat it may represent will probably go away. Maybe. Sometime. Very soon, no doubt.


A different take on the controversy from Shane Richmond at the Telegraph…

iBooks Author: Apple doesn’t want to own your book

[i]Once you’ve created your book, you can give it away freely if you choose. However, if you want to charge for it then you can sell the book only through Apple’s iBookstore.

That seems to have caused some confusion, with web reports suggesting that Apple claims ownership of any books created with iBooks Author.

That is incorrect. Apple does not claim ownership of the book at all. You can create an ebook with the same content, using any other kind of software and sell it in any store you like. But if you create an iBook using iBooks Author and decide to sell it, then the iBookstore is your only option.

That means Apple will take 30 per cent of the sale price, of course, as it does with apps. And as with apps, if you give your product away then you don’t pay Apple anything…[/i]

That’s quite a statement.

What evidence do you have to support the idea that Amazon are somehow hiding books on their inventory?

The best evidence in the world. An Amazon lawyer and I had a lengthy phone conversation about one such case. She didn’t deny it was happening, she defended the practice. And I live in Seattle and know Amazon programmers. As one said to me, “don’t trust our search results.”

One illustration is my edition of Across Asia on a Bicycle. The text is in the public domain, so there are numerous editions at various prices. Some are just scans of the original. Mine is reformatted with notes and additional chapters and also has one of the best prices, currently $11.01.

At present, my edition appears in Amazon’s search results. Sometimes it doesn’t and readers get directed to pricer versions. That’s what Amazon’s lawyer defended: their right to push pricer editions. Her rationale was that customers could still find my version by clicking on links on the pages of pricer editions. Yeah, that is if they knew to do that.

It varies over time. At one point the listing of my Across Asia was so bad, neither my paperback or hardback editions appeared anywhere in the search results–search results that included unavailable editions from the 1890s. The only way to get from a search on the book’s title to my edition was to follow the link to a pricey scanned version. Under that version, if you the selected hardback in a tiny link, you’d get to my hardback from which you could get to my paperback. Weird, weird, weird.

The really, really strange thing was that, then and now, if you search for “across asia on a bicycle” on Google, the Amazon page for my edition is the first non-paid entry. As I pointed out to people at the time, my edition on Amazon was the #1 hit on Google for the entire world but virtually invisible on Amazon itself. That top ranking, I suspect, is because a lot of biking site’s recommend my edition as the one to get.

This isn’t to say that Amazon can’t turn off the code that does that. And for all I know, they may have done so. I’ve certainly complained enough online to give them motivation. Since I can’t change what Amazon does, I don’t monitor the situation that closely.

I always have good reasons for the claims I make. Thanks for giving me the chance to demonstrate that.

–Michael W. Perry, editor of Across Asia on a Bicycle

I fully agree with complaining, even when it proves to be an overreaction. It’s the responsibility of Apple’s lawyers to make clear what they mean and don’t mean. And I think this sort of fuss may even cause Apple to relax their demands a bit. Complaining seems to have gotten them to relax a bit on their once weird app approval process. Companies do listen, if for no other reason than because their employees read online.

Two observations:

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple refuses to sell some sorts of ‘erotica’ like it refuses to sell apps with similar themes. That’ll create a tempest in a teapot.

  2. The code iBooks Author creates isn’t EPUB 3.0 standard, but some of those differences lie in how files are named and where they’re placed. It might be possible for someone to create an app that not only rewrites what iBooks Author creates to make it standard EPUB, but strips off any clear indication that the code came from Apple’s app. That’d take advantage of the fact that iBooks Author is what digital publishing has long needed, a WYSIWYG app for ebooks.

If it isn’t working on one already, Amazon is going to have to create a similar app for their format. I just hope they create a Mac version of this “Kindle Author” app along with the Windows one.

–Mike Perry, Seattle

I gave iBooks Author a hands-on test drive last week. I like the way its image gallery widget works, because you can switch from a small sized image to full screen, flip through a series of images, and easily return to the book. Video goes full screen the same way, and the audio widget is nice because it stops playing when pages are flipped.

As Scrivener evolves, perhaps someday it can support something akin to Apple’s widgets. I’m not suggesting that Scrivener should adopt Author’s page layout metaphor. Heaven forbid! Layout isn’t always necessary. I’m a tech writer. I create lots of illustrated CHM files. To my eyes, Apple’s widgets add value. A little multimedia support in Scrivener could go a long way, especially if Scrivener supports the ePub3 standard, and not the proprietary formats that Apple and Amazon are using to keep their stores and readers incompatible with one another.

Here’s a comment I just posted to ars technica. I think it summarizes what Apple’s actual goals are and how those goals will impact content creators such as writers. The original is here:

arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic. … &t=1166718

Keep in mind that the real issue is whether this 30% tax that Apple wants to impose is commensurate with what they contribute to the process. If it is, they have no need to set up monopoly gateways, so their efforts to establish ‘no way but by us’ schemes suggest that they want to establish high, monopoly fees to the detriment of almost all the other players in the marketplace, particularly authors.

Ambiguous language or not, the courts would have never allowed Apple to effectively acquire a copyright through a mere software license. They’d have examined the license, noted that it contains none of the provisions common to copyright agreements such as payments and terms, and voided that claim–assuming Apple intended that outcome, which I assure you it didn’t. Apple isn’t after copyrights. It’s after something far more lucrative.

Those who claim this adjustment as a victory for authors are blind to Apple’s still evolving business model. Its goal is to set up software/hardware/online gateways between content creators (authors, musicians, app developers etc.) and the public, making them as tight as possible and assessing a 30% fee on all retail transactions between the two, irrespective of Apple’s own cost for managing the transaction, which I assure you is far less than 30%.

  • The iTunes Store was their first move, although it’s a permeable one. CDs can bypass it, as can online stores such as Amazon who forgo DRM. Apple was still learning.

  • Selling apps for iOS devices is the most successful illustration of Apple’s gatekeeping model. To install apps without paying Apple 30% of retail, users must take the radical move of jail-breaking their iPhone. Most won’t do that. There, Apple’s control is almost total.

  • Because there’s a long history of distributing apps independent of Apple, the App Store for OS X can’t be as restrictive as that for iOS. At best, Apple can only limit access to special features such as iCloud to App Store apps. Over time, Apple may attempt to extend its gatekeeping role.

  • There is also Apple’s seemingly strange and counterproductive attempt to access a 30% fee on all in-app purchases, a term that actually applies to simple in-app links. It’s a measure of just how committed Apple is to its gateway business model that it was willing to keep this scheme in place even when almost no company signed up for it. Apple would rather make nothing that abandon its standard 30% gatekeeper tax. Judging by a few stray remarks that have leaked out, Apple’s lawyers seem to regard this policy as establishing a precedence for their other and more successful moves.

  • The iBooks Author is the latest move in this plan. What matters aren’t the misunderstood terms. What matters are two facts.

  1. Apple has not released the specs for Multi-touch, their name for this EPUB-derived format that IBooks Author creates for iPad books. That means that it would be difficult or impossible for anyone else to create a competing authoring app that would allow authors to bypass Apple’s restrictions on commercial use and thus allow authors to bypass the iBookstore. And if someone tries to do this via reverse engineering, Apple will can change their specs.

  2. Keep in mind the other problem that Apple’s gatekeeping faces. An iPad is porous enough that an author could create an ebook with iBooks Author and sell it at other online store, pocketing the 30% fees that Apple would otherwise get. All he’d have to give up is DRM. Apple’s ban on the commercials sale of any ebook created by iBooks Author through any channel but the iBookstore blocks that gateway bypass. The exception for free books doesn’t matter because Apple doesn’t care about controlling content. It simply wants to collect its 30% gateway tax on everything that creators are selling consumers. Since content creators are often getting only 5-10% of retail, Apple’s grab for 30% is sheer, unmitigated greed. It is 6 to 10 times as much as the creator often gets, and Apple is doing essentially nothing.

In short, to understand Apple’s schemes, always look for where and how they are establishing their restrictive gateways. iBooks Author is Apple’s restrictive gateway for ebooks on an iPad. Not opening up the spec prevents any other app from bypassing their gateway. Banning any other use of the books IBA creates blocks the other bypass. That’s what they’re doing.

Now a bit of history. You’ve probably heard the expression Robber Baron applied to the giant monopolists of the late 19th century such as Rockefeller (oil) and Carnegie (steel). That’s true, but its original meaning applied to literal ‘barons’ in the Middle Ages who set up castles along rivers and trading routes, assessing a tax on all goods that passed by them.

Apple’s business model is to become the Robber Baron of digital content. Goods attempting to move from content creators to content consumers will be forced to pass through its gateways where a 30% tax will be assessed. There’s only one difference. The earlier Robber Barons used soldiers, while Apple intends to use lawyers for much the same purpose.

Understand that and you understand Apple. Fail to understand that and much of their behavior becomes erratic and incomprehensible. Put in terms of the company logo, Apple wants to take a bite out of every content creator’s income, whether they be an author, a developer, or a musician.