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Why I don’t dare to publish with Apple’s iBooks Author App

Apple is tempting authors with an easy-to-publish book platform. But as an author I would be stupid to take their offer.

I have for the last couple of years worked on a book about Cambodia. As a former Asia correspondent for the largest Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, I have had a particular interest in the Far East. Among all the Asia countries Cambodia has intrigued me the most, especially how extremely friendly people are despite the brutal and violent political history of the country.

I have almost finished a manuscript describing how the brutal political history of the South East Asia country has influenced the life of even young Khmers born after the Pol Pot year. Now I face the question of how I should publish the book after the last few pages have been written.

As a paper book primarily?  I could. And that is also what I planned.  But the highly regulated – and very small – Norwegian book market  make my income on this option marginal. I may get some recognition, of course, but with such a niche topic as contemporary Cambodia there is no way I will make even close to my normal salary in royalties for selling the book.

Should I forget about being published in the print format – and instead focus only on the ebook market, then?  I may not get more income, but format and its possibilities are exciting and the book might end up getting a bigger audience. It sounds like a good idea, except that ebooks have not really taken off in the small Norwegian market, one reason being that the big publishing houses pretty much have cooperated in making sure ebooks have not been a big success so far.

Now Apple offers its iBooks Author App – promising that everyone can make amazing multi-touch ebooks for iPad.

It sounds exciting!  I would love to take my manuscript, mix it with some of my best photographs from Cambodia and design an amazing book, hopefully both giving a great reading and visual experience at the same time. And the iPad is a great platform to read books (except in daylight, that is).

But I will not do it.

Because there is a catch.

It is hidden in the terms of use:

 If your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or
service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

It stinks!

So Apple wants me to spend months writing a manuscript, taking photographs and putting it all into a coherent story. Then I will spend a few hours (remember it is SO EASY!), maybe days if I am really getting into it, creating a great ebook using their tool. In return they want more or less full ownership of my work!

I can accept that I will give Apple 30 % of my income selling the ebook through their iBooks app. Afterall I only get to keep about 15 % when I publish a paperbook through a Norwegian publishing house.

But give me even one reason why I should accept that Apple limits my chances of distributing my work on other platforms than the ones controlled by them?

For me it is the opposite way around: If I choose the ebook route I want my work to be published on all available platforms there is. There are three reasons for that:

  • It maximizes my profit. People use different platforms and I want as wide distribution as possible.
  • Many people today use several devices during the day to access the same content. That’s why I love the Kindle platform for books. Many times I have found myself starting reading the book on the Kindle ereader, then continuing on the Kindle app on iPad before I read on in a bar at night on my Android-powered smartphone. It all syncronizes perferctly across devices and platforms.
  • I want to learn as much as possible about how people use my content. There is little learning in only publishing on one device

For more on the license agreement I recommend you to read Ed Bott in ZD Net:  Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement.  For a wider perspective I recommmend Thomas Baekdal: Lies, Damned Lies and Ebooks.

As I look at it Apple is basically providing me with two things:

  • An easy-to-use production tool for iBook.
  • A distribution platform for selling the book through iPad and iBook.

The production tool is supposedly free (provided that I have a Mac, which I do not have). But in fact they are charging me an extremely high price by trying to take full ownership of my work.  I don’t know of any other seller of a production tool using this business model.  Do you?

For the distribution platform I am asked to pay 30 % of the revenue.  This is a fairly common business model for selling goods and services.

So what do I do?

For sure: Although I would love to, I don’t dare to use the new Author App from Apple. I have spent so much time struggling over my manuscript – and I have still weeks to go. There is no way I will risk the right to do whatever I want with my own content just for the right to use a convenient – and I am sure also very elegant – production tool.

So I will look for other ways to make elegant ebooks. It may take me some more hours, and the end-result may not be as perfect. But I will be in control myself. And I will hopefully reach more readers, not only on Apple’s devices.

In the meantime I will not be surprised if Apple provides a “broader” and more author-friendly interpretation of the terms of use.

I think they have to. I am not the only author around.

What is your opinion?

About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hans van den Broek

    My opinion? I think you don’t understand it. If you use iBooks Author for your book, you can only publish it through Apple. However, nothing can stop you using other software to publish it thought Apple and others in say, the epub format. Or you can do both: Use iBooks Author for the Apple Store, and other software (Sigil comes to mind, open source and cross-platform: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list) for other ebook publishers. It’s only a matter of “copy – paste.” Apple however has all the right in the world to state that iBooks Author can only be used for their store. Please don’t forget that most ebook publishers have their propriety format: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_e-book_formats
    You may also keep in mind that the iBook Author version will probably be superior (mainly because you’re an author, not a layout specialist) which is exactly the reason why Apple wants you to use it for their store only. Apple is all about user experience. But then, you wouldn’t know, you don’t have a Mac…

  • http://twitter.com/LoganIII Logan Weiler III

    Thank you for catching the fine print for us.  Apple is very crafty about copyrights and licenses.

  • http://dpawson.myopenid.com/ Dave P

    Or you could use their software (if you can get access to a Mac) to generate the book, then find a geek to help you transform it into plain epub3 for use on any platform. Just take care not to use the fancy (and non compliant) stuff that Apple have extended the epub spec with.

    Your logic is 100% right IMHO.

  • Guest
  • Onno Feringa

    This article may bring some perspective: http://www.cultofmac.com/141832/why-the-emotional-criticism-of-ibooks-author-is-wrong/

  • Ed Kinberg

    Well written article. You make solid points.

    Apple can only make money if they sell your books. If there are other outlets for your sales, it gives Apple users an choice to obtain your material from other source. As doing so would deprive Apple of a revenue source, they cannot allow choice and maintain their current business model and high profit margin. I would be surprised to see a change in their terms absent a significant change in the Company culture

    I hope everyone else is as careful as you are in reading terms and conditions.

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  • Pjjordan

    John, Your answer is fairly simple. If you are on a Mac, The latest version of Apple’s Pages writing and layout applications (Pages ’09) will allow you to write your book, insert inline pictures (use PNG or JPEG) and then export it as an EPUB file that you can sell to any ebook publisher or outlet that can handle the EPUB format and give you a decent return on both sales and rights. Pages ’09 even comes with a sample EPUB template that you can mess about with until you get the file you want to export, including, for example a dynamic table of contents. The page size of the template is a bit large for most devices, but you could set a page size of, say, A5 and work on it. 

  • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

    Thanks for all your comments!  As in all topics regarding Apple it is fascinating to observe how divided comments are :)  Apple fans are always ready to defend The Great Company, while others are almost as ready to point out defiences. 

    It seems to me that the term “Works” is not so well defined in the terms of use. But if it in practice implies what some of you are pointing out – that Apple’s control only goes with the part that you actually produce with the software – some of my criticism could be weaker. I will admit to that :) 

    But even though I love both my iPad and iPhone, I find Apple’s attitude towards those of us who also use other platforms than their own (and we are quite a few…) quite provoking. 

    And I think that if ever Apple will “do a Nokia” or “do a Microsoft” (and I know it is very hard for all you Apple fans to even imagine – especially after the results for Q4 2011) it will be because of this arrogant attitude.

  • Mlaun

    It’s a bit expensive, about $500, but the Adobe DPS.single edition is worth looking into.

  • Brett Lester

    John, I have followed the media frenzy on this product. I think you are mistaken. First up, Apple’s exclusivity applies only to the book in the specific format, not the actual content.  You are free to publish in another format. Secondly, if you publish through any traditional publisher, you are usually expected to give them exclusivity in the agreed regions.

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  • Kelli Swan

    Hi John –
    I’ve been a Mac user since ’86. I and most of my mac-friends have a love/hate relationship with apple.  We love the machine & the interface, but their closed systems, exclusive contracts and forced upgrades can make one batty.  (I recently decided to divest myself from some of their products like email so that they don’t have quite so much control over my life.) 

    Anyhow – I had already done a ton of ebook research when I found this post and response thread. I’ll be trying out iBook Author, and also using other software to get my book into broader markets. You probably already know that Apple’s restrictions only apply to books created with their app – you still own the content.

    Thanks to all who have posted here.  I was going to use InDesign as my “other software” option, but learned here that Pages may do the same thing with less hassle.  People are so wonderful about posting helpful tips!!

    Best of luck with your book(s)

  • Bob Gilvey

    Bob Gilvey •

     Is iBooks Author awesome again?

    From the LA Times:


    “Apple’s new publishing program, released just a few weeks ago, seemed
    like a really cool piece of software that would make it possible for
    people to create an iBook complete with all kinds of interactive
    functionality, with very little coding know-how.

    But because of some funky wording in the End User License Agreement,
    some people worried that Apple was claiming ownership to any content
    created using its software.

    Well, Apple updated the language of its EULA on Friday to make it clear
    that the content you create using iBooks Author is all yours if you want
    to turn it into a paper book or sell it as a non-iPad friendly e-book.
    But if you plan to distribute it for a fee, in the .ibook format, Apple
    is going to be involved.

    Here’s the official wording, with the new language in italics:

    (ii) if the work is provided for a fee (including as part of any
    subscription-based product or service) and includes files in the .ibooks
    format generated using iBooks Author, the work may only be distributed
    through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate
    written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary);
    provided, however, that this restriction will not apply to the content
    of the work when distributed in a form that does not include files in
    the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author. You retain all your
    rights in the content of your works, and you may distribute such content
    by any means when it does not include files in the .ibooks format
    generated by iBooks Author.

    Will this make content creators feel more comfortable with creating works in iBooks Author?


    But at least Apple has clarified that just because you wrote it in iBooks Author, the company doesn’t think it owns it.”

    • arene s

      I appreciate you for clearing that up. You can imagine what fear that interjects in the mind of us hard working creative writing artist to have your work being owned by a company who you now find yourself at the mercy of them distributing your work as they please, and leave you no ecourse except be at their mercy.
      Again, I totally appreciate you clearing this up!

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     This post made a lot of very good points – ones I haven’t even considered before.  For that reason, my views on this matter are going to have to be revised. 

  • Susenbeth

    I’ll guess Apple is aiming for edu books, but with this deal no private company is willing to produce new material.
    I’ll go for Mag+ ( or Adobe if you twist my arm) apple have to re-think their terms.

  • Marcus

    Thank you for this article. I am starting to hesitate as well. I have written a 100 pages long guide in Swedish. I have now found out how difficult it is to:

    1. Be sure that it will be published, and not refused by Apple without getting the reason why.2. Get paid without having an American tax number.

    3. Update the content so that the people who already bought the guide will get the updated material into their iPads.

    There are more reasons, but these are the most important to me. I wish I didn’t spend time starting creating the book in iBooks Author. I used to be an “Apple fanboy”, but the company’s disrespectful methods disappoints me. 

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  • cell phone lookup

    yeah apple is getting much like their competitor google in terms of how they view ownership of “your” content

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  • http://revtrev.com/ RevTrev

    There is one thing to remember…Whenever you have a new edition of a work a new ISBN is required. Since the edition with Apple is unique to the iBookstore – You won’t have all the pictures in a print version or Kindle will you? – I see no problem creating new editions to sell through other networks. 

    Your only cost would be ISBN’s. I’m in Canada and they are free.

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  • Sean Dalrymple

    This article is horribly misleading… Sure, if you use iBooks Author to create a book, you can only use what iBooks Author outputs to publish on the Apple iBooks Store. However your content is yours, you are free to use this content to produce ebooks for other platforms. All they are saying is that you cannot use what iBooks Author outputs in order to publish to another platform. You can use a separate program, create a separate ebook and submit it to a separate book store with the same content that is owned by you.

  • Frederic

    I thnik you should correct your post as it shows only that you do not understand the eula. Just ask to an advocate, or think it just a bit : how can a company could ask you to give an exclusive right on your work. The publisher can, not the printer.

    As a publisher, we are doing ebook for ipad and the same content is also done for android with another tool.

    Apple just asks that the ebook file should be sold only through its store, which is not a great deal as only iOS readers can open it.

    Please correct your post. Maybe you get many hits on this post but is not correct to spread false information (there are too many of them over the net).



  • http://twitter.com/ShanghaiTimes ShanghaiTimes

    Agree. Apple may own the iBook rights as such, but you will always own the content. Do with it what you will.

  • Jarl

    Thanks for posting this. I am new to epubing, and I think I’ll avoid apple and try kindle, or just a pdf on my own website. Maybe apple would be a good idea after published in some other place, just to expand the exposure.

  • April Galanksy

    Well that doesn’t make much sense because if you look at the books on the Apple ibooks list, they are books that are available everywhere in every format.

  • http://josuemolina.com/ Josue Molina

    So what did you end up doing?

  • http://web.me.com/stevenmeans/US Steven Stanfield Means

    This article is two years out of date. It is certainly not correct by current Apple statements. It is certainly not correct by practice. If an author wishes to place a book on the Apple iBook shelf in ibooks format then an agreement with Apple about profit sharing must be in place. iBooks Author is one way to produce works in the iBooks format. It is tailored, that is shaped, to the iPad. It has some limitations compared to general ePub authoring tools and it extends / transcends ePub capabilities in a few areas. The use of iBooks Author is “free” if the user does not have to purchase an Apple product to use it. IBA runs on a Mac and not on a PC or other platform.

    IBA finalizes a work with its “Export” function. If the author selects “iBooks” format the file produced has the extension .ibooks and that file only works on an iPad or Mac. If the work meets Apples standards it can be sold through Apple channels.

    If the author selects PDF format then the file has the .pdf extension and can be further adjusted using dozens of programs. The PDF format retains URL linking and has better color reliability than the iBooks version. Many iBooks features are lost. The automatic TOC disappears. Multi-media inserts disappear. The Glossary is reformatted. This can be a disaster because each Glossary item is exported as a single page of PDF. This looks fine if the original is the size of a single page, that is for very short entries. A two page original appears as half size. A 15 page entry comes out so small it will test your patience to expand but it will be readable when expanded.

    The compositional advantages of iBooks Author parallel the advantages of composing a Book using iPhoto which is the obvious source of the IBA code.

    I have published several books using each platform and the PDF output. My books are top examples of what can be accomplished.

    I have completed an 861 page book using IBA in combination with several PDF tools. This requires an author skilled in workflow management and multiple programs. The results are terrific.

    Apple makes not restrictions in how a PDF format work is marketed.
    from IBA and APPLE:

    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.”

  • Esa Myllylä

    Better to use Itunes producer, this give you the right to publish anywhere.

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  • Lancer Kind

    I concur with Hans. The contract isn’t as broad as you think (although a few others have posted same opinion as yours). Apple wants the exclusive right to distribute your *iBook* and they may decide they don’t want to publish your *iBook* if they find it offensive, …. or whatever.

    As soon as I get the damn iTunes Produce garbage cleared up (I’m having some business process problems with Apple), I’ll publish an Agile comic called Scrum Noir which is also published on Nook and Amazon.

    I’ve seen several books in the iBook store that are also published on Kindle.

    Take care and good look on your book!


    Ouch! that was pretty direct. but thank you both. I have published many books on ibooks. I do own a mac and at the start of my process the apple staff was very supportive in assuring me that my books would be my property to sell at my discretion. the reformatting is just a technicality as I simultaneously, at first was working to get my books formatted for android in ‘create space’ and ibooks. It’s all about your comfort level.



  • Nicholas Johnson

    To be fair, this was far from obvious in the original wording of the licence agreement.