Update 3 Feb 2012: Apple updated the End User License Agreement (EULA) on Friday, February 3 to make clear that they were not attempting to control the content of books created with iBooks Author, but rather the formatting itself:
If you want to charge a fee for a work that includes files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author, you may only sell or distribute such work through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple. This restriction does not apply to the content of such works when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format. [emphasis mine]
So, cross #2 of my list below. The rest remains the same, unfortunately.
I haven't stopped thinking about iBooks Author since I saw it announced yesterday morning. There are so many pieces to the story that I thought I'd take another stab at explaining them all.
First, a quick recap. Apple yesterday launched a powerful WYSIWYG tool, iBooks Author, that creates electronic textbooks quickly and easily. That's the good news. The bad news is that the End user license for iBooks Author requires that all books created with iBooks Author be sold exclusively through Apple's iBookstore, and the books that iBooks Author (which I'm going to call iBA books) creates are in an Apple proprietary format, based on EPUB3, but distinct from it, and called "ibooks".
Why might that be a problem?
1. Apple has the final say in what can be sold on the iBookstore. Each book must be approved by Apple. If Apple doesn't approve your book, you can't sell it anywhere else.
2. It's not at all clear how far Apple's control of an iBA book's content goes.
If you create an ebook in iBooks Author, can you then copy out the
content and create a Kindle book in some other tool? What if you create
an iBA book from an existing Kindle-published novel? Can Apple require
that you remove that book from Amazon?
3. It's not at all clear that Apple's exclusivity benefits kids, schools, or teachers. iPads are expensive, and Apple's exclusivity will mean that schools will be entirely at the mercy of a single company, for its approval of content, pricing and availability of devices, and tools for making textbooks. In the US, content in textbooks is currently controlled by local schoolboards. I don't want to cede that role to Apple.
4. iBA ebooks will work only on iBooks on iPad (I don't think it works even in iPhone/iPod touch). Although Apple had promised support for EPUB in its initial release of iBooks for the original iPad in April, 2010, it has now broken that promise. Apple and Steve Jobs have long wanted to control all the hardware and software so that they were perfectly integrated. One of the first thing Jobs did upon returning to Apple was kill the clones. Now they want control over the content as well.
Currently iBA ebooks will work only in iBooks. Will iBooks stop supporting EPUB created with other tools?
5. It fragments the ebook ecosystem and requires new publishing tools and workflows for publishers.
iBooks Author does not create EPUB files and it cannot import existing
EPUB files. It certainly can't export to any other format. I don't know
any publishers who are looking for extra formats in which to publish
6. Apple's iBookstore currently serves only 32 countries out
of the 205 existing countries in the world. Not included? Brazil (nor
all of Latin America), Russia, India, Japan, China (nor all of Asia),
New Zealand, South Africa (nor all of Africa).
7. Apple iBookstore is not that great.
It's hard to find books in the Apple iBookstore, sometimes even if you
know the title! There are few recommendations, few reviews. And there
are hardly any books, especially outside the US. Sure Apple wants to compel people to put books into the iBookstore, but is it in our best interest?
8. It's bossy. I bridle at anyone telling me where I can sell my books. Even if I only wanted to sell through the iBookstore I would be annoyed at Apple making me sign a paper to that effect.
9. It's unnecessary. Even if iBooks Author generated EPUB standard supporting ebooks, there's not an ereader in existence that could have viewed them. They would have blown the competition out of the water, without any coercion required.
10. Books are special. This is about books (for teaching our children!) which in my opinion should not be controlled by any company or government. What I have loved about the web and ebooks is that anyone can create and publish them without anyone else's approval. Books are information, are democracy, are freedom. No one has a right to control them.
Before you go off to the comments to tell me how I have a choice and I can just not use iBooks Author, stop yourself. I know I have that choice. I also don't need to hear about how iBooks Author is a free program and I should therefore not have any opinion on what it can or cannot require. Besides the fact that free is a relative term here (given Apple's 30% take for starters), I'm not talking about what is legal but what I think would have been right, what would have been smart, what would have really had a transformative affect on publishing, technology, and education. Apple could have done so much better. I was rooting for Apple, and they took the low road.