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A Closer Look at iBooks Author, Textbooks and Exclusivity

Earlier today we published a story about iBook Author's exclusivity clause which generated some confusion. To clarify, Apple is not claiming exclusive sales rights to the content of published textbooks but to the specific output format (iBooks) generated by their iBooks Author tool.

Today, Apple released an easy to use tool called iBooks Author which allows anyone (publishers and users) to create interactive iBooks with text, video, images and more. As Apple mentioned during their media event, the availability of such a robust tool to make electronic books has been lacking. iBook Author can export projects in a number of different formats, including iBook format, PDF and text.

The iBooks (version 2) format is an improved format created by Apple based on ePub 3, but with additions and changes specific to Apple. These additions are believed to add new functionality and interactivity to the format as shown during today's media event.

At present, this iBook format will only work with Apple's iOS devices, and will not work on other devices. Even so, Apple has restricted sales of any iBook formatted documents coming from iBooks Author to the App Store. VenomousPorridge comes out against these terms suggesting that trying to control the output format is overreaching and falls apart in certain cases:
Or how about this: for a moment I’ll stipulate that Apple’s EULA is valid and I’ve agreed to it implicitly by using the software. Now suppose I create an iBook and give it to someone else who has never downloaded iBooks Author and is not party to the EULA, and that person sells it on their own website. What happens now?
As John Gruber points out, beyond the 30% App Store cut, Apple may simply not want to feed content to competing bookstores such as Amazon or Google.
Second, it’s about not wanting iBooks Author to serve as an authoring tool for competing bookstores like Amazon’s or Google’s. The output of iBooks Author is, as far as I can tell, HTML5 — pretty much ePub 3 with whatever nonstandard liberties Apple saw fit to take in order to achieve the results they wanted.
As we've mentioned, as a new format, the iBook format isn't even compatible with any other devices, but it's easy to imagine that compatibility could be implemented by Google or Amazon if the format takes off. Apple achieved a similar lock-in advantage with their own App Store apps, though those apps can't run on competitors' devices due to technical issue rather than licensing ones.

As for the likelihood of publisher adoption, AllThingsD points out why publishers are willing to start selling textbooks at the $15 price point when their paper counterparts go for much higher. According to the McGraw-Hill CEO, the company expects to make up the sales on volume. At least in the high school market, McGraw-Hill tends to sell $75 texts to schools which keeps those books for an average of 5 years. At $15 and sold directly to students, the company anticipates recurring annual revenue from each year's students.

Not everyone seems convinced, however, and Apple's proprietary format is raised as a possible issue. Macworld spoke with an executive at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who claims that they need to be device-agnostic in order to support a broad number of devices.

Top Rated Comments

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34 months ago
Why do they open up the possible number of users of iBooks Author only to severely restrict it by making it Lion only? Lion as an OS is crappy, unreliable and too full of Tablet Toy features for business use. Apple need to rethink this and launch a version that works on Snow Leopard.
Rating: 28 Votes
34 months ago
Humm... Yesterday there was no revolution on textbook authoring and format. Today apple comes up with both, an easy way to author meaningful textbooks, and a new class of interactive textbooks that are simply amazing.

Then, folks come screaming saying this is not good, limits my freedom somehow, not fair with amazon or google, apple sucks for yet again reinventing an industry... blah la, la blah...

Why didn't google or amazon reinvent the textbook industry before now? They certainly had an opportunity...

Why didn't or sonny invent this on their universe?

Yes, thinking forward and innovation are indeed difficult to achieve, but critizing the heck of what is for all practical purposes a revolution for textbooks creation and consumption, is somehow a hobby for many.

Somehow what apple has done today limits folk's freedom. As if choosing to continue to use printed textbooks has been forbidden, even though yesterday that was the only choice for the same folks that are complaining today.
Rating: 18 Votes
34 months ago
Since when is it Apple's responsibility to support mobi or other non-ePub formats?
Rating: 14 Votes
34 months ago
Publishers don't need to worry about supporting a wide number of devices. People don't use a wide number of devices. People use iPads.

Publishers should be very excited and really embrace this tech as the future. This will make them MORE relevant; not less so. Textbooks as they are don't make sense in 2012. With this announcement, students, teachers and people in general can get excited about learning again.
Rating: 12 Votes
34 months ago
I can't get over the fact that even if you submit a book and it gets REJECTED ......Apple STILL owns the IP for that book and you are NOT allowed to try and sell it elsewhere.

Does that make ANY sense at all?

Seems like typical Apple BS and exactly why 90% of developers shy away from Apple in general.
Rating: 11 Votes
34 months ago
I don't see the exclusivity as a problem. The format is not standard, so it protects them against cheap iPad knock offs trying to steal content created using tools provided for free by Apple.

It also prevents apps that might aim to pose as iBook stores that allow higher pricing or larger books for example.

Essentially I think Apple are protecting their own design which should also help keep the user experience at the Apple standard.

I can see this being a really bad experience on other competing tablets with buggy software and a lack of rules to ensure content is consistent.
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago

Right. Why live with the burdens of freedom and choice when one company can do all the thinking for you...

God you are one of the most whinny people on this forum. Your handle really suits you. I have music, videos, and books on my iPad right now and none of it was bought from Apple. So how are they hindering my freedom of choice.
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago
This is like Apple allowing garage bands to sell their songs on iTunes. Anyone can publish their books on iBooks? What incentive do the publishing houses have to go along with this? I guess it is adapt or else.

My wife has been on a textbook adoption committee in Texas. Its going to take a lot for teachers to adopt a new form of textbook. I think this will be far better suited for college classes (where the professors publish their books with smaller publishers who will now be put out of business).

On another level, could this be a disrupter of Amazon? If in 5-10 years Apple has done to the publishing houses what Apple has done to music distribution, what will happen to Amazon and B&N?

And finally, could someone ask Phil Schiller to smile? If this is such a great technology, couldn't the guy smile just a bit when talking about it?
Rating: 9 Votes
34 months ago

I don't see the exclusivity as a problem. The format is not standard, so it protects them against cheap iPad knock offs trying to steal content created using tools provided for free by Apple.

While it's not a standard, the format seems to be ePub + HTML5 mixture, so it would be easy enough to reverse engineer.

In fact if you just rename ( the file, it will load in an ePub reader, though you lose some of the details.

Rating: 9 Votes
34 months ago
This could be the death knell for the college textbook industry -- and deservedly so. When an industry is selling a book for $400 a copy, there is obviously a lot of fat, inefficiency, and corruption in that industry.
Rating: 8 Votes

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