The Contradictory World of Apple iBooks 2

Last week Apple launched iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iBooks Textbooks.  Although copyright and financial issues were raised because of the launch, that didn’t affect Apple in the slightest.

Global Equities Research reported more than 350,000 textbooks were downloaded from the company’s iBooks Store within the first three days of availability and the iBooks Author had been downloaded more than 90,000 times already.

This is looking good for Apple: they’re leading the way to a new era for digital publishing and e-books.  But what are people really saying about the new movement?

Schools: Can and Can’t Afford

For “can afford” schools like the Menlo School in Atherton, California, which has a technology budget that enabled them to provide iPads for all their 8th and 10th graders, Apple’s new offering is the missing piece in their iPad program.  Before, the iPads weren’t used as e-readers because of the lack of available e-textbooks, but with iBooks Textbooks, iPads are now more useful in the school setting.  Also, Menlo teachers are excited to try out iBooks Author in making their own lessons and books, creating unique lesson plans just for their studnets.

“We felt that laptops and desktops focus students too much on the technology and not enough on the content or communication with another human,” said  Eric Spross, director of technology at the Menlo School. “We choose iPads because they’re lightweight, portable, have a long battery life, and are self-service. They’re easier to support.”

But for schools like the Ravenswood public school district in East Palo Alto, California, an iPad is considered as a luxury item they can’t afford.  Though e-textbooks seem like a great way to cut costs, they have to consider other, less expensive alternatives like the Kindle or Kindle Fire from Amazon, though textbooks from iBooks 2 and iBooks Author would not be compatible with other devices, not even iPhones or iPod Touches.  Aside from the price issue, they have to consider which grade level would be best to put the device into action.  And of course, the matter of training the teachers for using such devices is also an issue.

An Author’s Dream And Nightmare

Many authors have already tried using the iBooks Author, and most only have nice things to say about it.  According to TUAW’s Steven Sande, iBooks Author is quite easy to use. You start off by choosing from the six templates available, which can be repurposed as needed. Creating your work in iBooks Author can be quite an adventure, as you try to figure out how add special functions such as interactive galleries, sound or video media, Keynote presentations, interactive review quizzes, interactive images, 3D rotatable images, and HTML code into your literary piece.  And the glossary tools just make your e-book so much more interesting, as you can give your own definitions for words.  You’ll spend hours engrossed in creating your literary masterpiece.

But (yes, there’s a but, and it’s a very important but), publishing your work is not that easy, especially if you want to sell your work.  Everyone was stumped by section 2 of the  iBooks Author License Agreement which states that:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:

(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;

(ii) 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.

Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.

In short, if it’s free it gets published.  If you want to sell it, Apple decides if it will be published.  But even if you’ve written the greatest book in the history of books and could possibly earn millions of dollars if published, if Apple declines to publish it, your only option through Apple’s platform is to publish it for free.  Why?  because in Apple’s point of view, iBooks Author created it and you do not have the right to sell their creation. Cruel huh? Similar to its app approval process, however, this restriction could lead to in-app redirects and other forms of e-book monetization.

To Sue or be Sued

Remeber how Apple, along with the six big publishing houses, were sued for allegedly controlling the price of e-books?  Here’s the update on that: Steve W. Berman, managing partner at Hagens Berman, the law firm representing the group of consumers suing Apple and the Big 6, and lead counsel on the case, submitted new allegations and evidences that support their case last Friday.

“The information we’ve included in this new filing shows the deep antagonism that publishers had toward Amazon for its consumer-friendly pricing,” said Berman.

“Since we began the action last August we’ve uncovered statements from executives at several publishers that demonstrate they viewed Amazon as a significant threat to the long-term survival of their profitability.”

“We intend to show that the big publishers saw the sea change in the delivery of books, and agreed to a price-fixing conspiracy as a last-gasp attempt to maintain profit margins,” added Berman.

If you think about it, the exclusivity of iBooks 2, along with the textbooks and iBooks Author to iPads, plus the above allegations of price control, Apple is serious in dominating the digital publishing industry and this could ultimately be bad news for pulishing houses as well as authors.  If Apple is successful, we better brace ourselves for a totally new era of digital publishing dominated by Apple.